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Communicating health benefits to consumers

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As consumers become more concerned with health and wellness, a huge opportunity for brands to position food around health and nutritional claims emerges. Yet consumer scepticism is also rising, with 4 in 10 consumers believing brands often make misleading claims.
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As part of Fi Global Connect: Health Ingredients in the Spotlight, our expert panel came together to share tips for brands on how to successfully build health claims on products which consumers consider to be trustworthy and credible. What exactly are consumers seeking when they demand ‘healthy’ products? What is the significance of future regulation in Europe regarding this definition? What must brands remember when launching ‘healthy’ products?

The growing power of positive nutrition

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, consumer attitudes are continually evolving, so much so that over the past year, a large majority of consumers worldwide have begun to re-evaluate their dietary habits in attempt to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Consumer research conducted by FMCG Gurus over the past 12 months shows that positive nutrition is quickly emerging as a key trend and priority amongst consumers globally, as many seek a more holistic approach to health.

“From our research, we can see that consumers are looking to fundamentally change their dietary habits and adopt a long-term approach to health,” Mike Hughes, Head of Research and Insights at FMCG Gurus said.

Within the realm of positive nutrition, consumer demand is centring round three key areas:  A back-to-basics and wholesomeness approach to nutrition, functional claims and active ingredients, and customised and real-time solutions.

As a result of Covid-19, three quarters of global consumers are actively looking to improve their physical and cognitive health and dietary habits, FMCG Gurus reports.

“Context is important. It’s important to recognise that even before the pandemic consumers realise that poor dietary habits and lifestyle choices are increasing their risk of illness … [consumers] recognise that issues such as time scarcity, affordability, self-entitlement are resulting in poor dietary plans and are impacting overall health,” Hughes noted.

Acknowledging the importance of cognitive health to everyday wellbeing, consumers expect to see functional claims in everyday food categories such as cereals and yoghurts, and seek a range of health-boosting ingredients, including Omega 3 and Vitamin C; both of which have increased in demand by over 50% in the past year.

Complexities, confusion, and communication

Health claim regulation in Europe is often criticised for its complexities and ambiguity. In simple terms, Izabela Tańska, Food Law Advisor, CEO at IGI Food Consulting advised

“[Companies] can use health claims if they are authorised and if the product meets the conditions of use [for the claim].”

One common complaint from brands is that the wording of health claims under EFSA is difficult for consumers to understand. Although regulation allows for manufacturers to alter the wording of claims provided that the meaning remains the same, no guidance is provided around how to do so, which raises challenges for manufacturers.

“The usage of claims is sometimes called the linguistic Olympic games as you have to assume understanding by consumers and by competent authorities, as the approach of the inspection is very important,” Tańska said.

One thing brands can do to avoid confusion is take time to understand their customers and build narratives around products, asking who the target audience is, when and why they will require it and what their beliefs and perceptions of products are.

“Consumers don’t buy health claims, they buy benefits … [brands] have to transform health claims into motivating intellectual benefits for consumers,” Aurore de Monclin, Managing Partner at The Healthy Marketing Team advised.

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How can brands successfully build health claims?

The Covid-19 pandemic has altered consumers’ approach to health, with the focus for many shifting from aspirational appearance related health goals to disease and illness prevention. More than ever before, consumers are researching ingredients, looking to science, and increasing their use of apps and personalised schedules to maximise wellbeing.

According to Hughes,

“Consumers are taking time to evaluate products in different categories and looking for more and more information; this is something that brands will have to respond to, ensuring the information is transparent, credible and readily available.”

For Rodney Jones, Professor of Sociolinguistics at the University of Reading who led the research project ‘Developing a Digital Toolkit to Enhance the Communication of Scientific Health Claims’  the two key elements of communicating health claims to consumers are understanding and trust. 

“Communication is just as important as the accuracy of the health claim … consumers are less likely to trust something they don’t understand.”

To build trust, manufacturers should use language that is familiar to consumers and recognise that even slight simplifications of grammar and vocabulary can have large effects.

“In a recessionary environment, trust becomes a bigger issue. The market is at a real tipping point where brands have to make sure claims they make are reliable,” Hughes said.

Consumers are increasingly seeking products which blur the boundaries between science and medicine. Brands need to easily communicate the science behind claims and at the same time, ensure information is easily accessible by consumers.

Defining healthy products

Consumers’ mindsets are changing regarding health, with most early-stage mass market consumers turning away from dietary evils such as sugar and chemicals and prioritising active and natural nutrition products.  

Despite this positive health trend, the definition of ‘healthy’ is still ambiguous.

According to Tańska,

“EU food law is overregulated. There is no need to define functional foods, but it might be appropriate to introduce conditions to justify the word healthy … it would be good to have guidance at the EU level on how manufacturers can use [this word].”

The inclusion of nutrient profiles in health claim regulation is likely to be a future strategy development that will increase consumer protection when it comes to health claims. If introduced, it is important that consumers are also educated on how to use nutrient profiles, which should help to standardise the general conception of what is considered healthy.

What should brands keep in mind when launching healthy products?

For Hughes,

“transparency is absolutely crucial,”

when introducing products with health claims to market. Brands should avoid outlandish claims that cannot be backed up with credible evidence, as not to deceive consumers.

Compliance with food law will allow manufacturers to have safe products on the market, while a reliable marketing campaign which uses simple and comprehensible messaging will build trust and loyalty with consumers, Tańska believes. Having a holistic approach to products and labelling, whereby what is written on the packaging aligns with the advertising and promotion is crucial.

For well-established brands, it is important to understand the culture, heritage, consumer perception and brand image of products to ensure that the pace of changing consumer demands is tracked.

Finally, it is essential that brands recognise that small changes to things like grammar and wording of packaging can have big effects when it comes to healthy products. Minor details such as including an asterisk from a general to more difficult health claim on product packaging can determine whether a consumer trusts the claim or not.

“It is one of the most consistent findings across our research … as soon as you put an asterisk there, you’re in trouble,” Jones concluded.
TAGS: Regulatory
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