What health and wellness means to consumers in the US is evolving and, Victor Martino writes, food companies need to adapt.

The philosophy and practice of wellness is taking on new and added meaning in the US, particularly among millennials and Generation Z but also with millennial-minded baby boomers. As a result, it’s created a new wellness marketplace, which in-turn has created the need to change for CPG companies that market and sell products to this growing and lucrative consumer base.

The Hartman Group, a Seattle-based market research firm specialising in analysing cultural drivers in the food and beverage sector, has been conducting syndicated research on health and wellness for 20 years. In its latest report, Health + Wellness 2019: From Moderation to Mindfulness, a combination of qualitative (survey) and qualitative (ethnographic in-person and online interviews) research with a relevant cohort of over 1,900 consumers, found a majority of Americans (63%) are now more concerned with anxiety and stress than they are with managing their weight (61%). Avoiding being overweight and weight management has been the top personal health and wellness concern among Americans for decades. It’s also been the primary focus of food and drink brands marketed to health and wellness conscious consumers

The Hartman Group’s findings mirror my own consumer research, which shows mental and emotional health is a fast-rising health-and-wellness issue among Americans, particularly millennials and Gen Z consumers. According to The Hartman Group CEO Laurie Demeritt, foods and beverages, in addition to the traditional forms of health and wellness management — exercise, medicine and nutritional supplements – have become increasingly important within this new definition of wellness.

There is a new wellness paradigm for CPG companies. This paradigm applies particularly to food and beverage companies with brands in the natural, organic, better-for-you and functional categories, which today includes nearly every major CPG company out there, along with an ever-increasing number of emerging and start-up companies offering brands targeted to the wellness marketplace. Retailers, too, are playing in the space with their private brands.

The new paradigm for CPG companies includes both the physical – the burgeoning self-care movement (the holistic philosophy and practice of taking care and honouring your body, mind and spirit in a way that activates your “best self”) and the fast-growing practice of mindfulness (maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment).

The motivating force behind the new wellness phenomenon is a decision by a growing number of consumers to be proactive and take greater control of their own lives, both physically and mentally. As part of this decision, consumers are picking and choosing food and beverage products that help them to better achieve their desired lifestyle. Wellness is the overall lifestyle umbrella. Self-care and mindfulness are the philosophies and practices used to achieve it. Physical and emotional well-being are now interconnected when it comes to wellness.

There are four pillars to the new wellness paradigm for CPG companies.

Self-care and mindfulness

Millennials and Gen Z consumers in particular are adopting the concept and practice of self-care in growing numbers. Be good to yourself is its mantra. Eating well, getting plenty of sleep, exercising, taking a mental health vacation, these are all part of self-care. And these consumers are searching for food and drink brands and products that help in promoting self-care.

Plant-based diets and whole grains are popular with the self-care crowd, as are products like bone broth, non-processed whole juices, matcha and kombucha. Fresh fruits and vegetables are also key, as are quality herbs and spices. Eating for your gut (fermented foods) and eating foods that help reduce anxiety and promote sleep, such as those rich in tryptophan (bananas, almonds, seeds and oats are four examples) are booming among those practicing self-care too. Tryptophan is an amino acid involved in the synthesis of melatonin, the sleep hormone.

CPG companies wanting to penetrate and do well in the new wellness marketplace need to focus on creating brands and products that not only help promote physical wellness like gut health, which numerous studies are linking to mental health as well, but also focus on products that promote emotional well-being, such as those perceived to aid in reducing anxiety and stress, along with aiding in relaxation and sleep promotion.

Personalisation playing key role

One of the key findings of The Hartman Group’s 2019 wellness study is consumers are increasingly personalising their wellness routines, including the foods and drinks they are choosing to help promote overall well-being.

CPG companies need to be aware of this new reality because it means consumers are picking and choosing among brands and products in a much more discerning way than they’ve ever done before.

They want brands that speak to their self-care routines – and which work – as well as products that are authentic and do what those who market them claim they will do. In other words, the functionality of a branded food or drink product is increasingly becoming as significant to wellness-focused consumers as its taste.

Brands need to speak to consumers in a personalised way in order to win their business. The growing practices of self-care and mindfulness are putting an even more personal twist on the products consumers buy to promote wellness.

Brand authenticity amid own-label challenge

Brand matters more than ever before in the new wellness marketplace. According to The Hartman Group’s research, quality private-label brands from trusted retailers are becoming increasingly popular among consumers when it comes to wellness concerns.

Almost 50% of consumers use private-label health-and wellness brands today, a 10% increase from 2013, according to the research firm. Trader Joe’s, Costco and Kroger’s private health-and-wellness brands are among the most popular, according to the data from the research firm’s quantitative surveys and ethnographic interviews with consumers.

Private brand is a real danger zone for CPG companies and their brands. Retailers like the three above are no longer cloning successful manufacturer brands and products like they did in the past. Instead they’re innovating, creating new products in the health-and-wellness category and, in some cases, beating CPG companies to the punch.

To succeed in the new wellness marketplace, CPG companies have to create, invigorate and build brands that speak better to the new connection between the physical and emotional when it comes to wellness, along with better understanding the growing importance self-care and the related mindfulness movements are playing today.

The key point of competitive differentiation is brand authenticity. In my ethnographic research, one thing that’s stood out as a macro-trend is consumers’ desire that brands focusing on health and wellness communicate to them in an authentic and transparent way. These consumers want a relationship with their wellness brands – and like any relationship they want it to be authentic. The B.S. detectors are turned on high.

They also want wellness brands to speak to them and their needs, like self-care, in an informative and ongoing manner. A dialogue rather than a monologue, such as advertising often is. Snacks maker Kind has launched a programme, “Be kind to yourself,” which in many ways fits the desires of those I’ve interviewed.

Consumers paying more attention to price

The main reason, according to The Hartman Group’s research, consumers are increasingly turning to private-brand health-and-wellness food and drinks is their lower price-points.

Millennials and Gen Z consumers are financially-challenged because of high student loan debt and housing costs and overall stagnant wage growth in the US. They therefore are more open to private brands. Combine with the fact private brands from retailers like Trader Joe’s, Costco, Kroger, Whole Foods Market and others are today on-par quality-wise with CPG brands in the health-and-wellness category and there is a blurring of the lines of demarcation between retailer brands and those from branded CPG companies.

A brand is increasingly a brand no matter its maker in the eyes of most Millennials and Gen Z consumers.

CPG companies doing business in the new wellness marketplace need to sharpen their pricing pencils. It’s unlikely they can match retailer brands on price-point for a variety of reasons, chief among them being that retailers own the shelf space and are able to spend less money on marketing their brands, but it’s advisable they decrease the price gap because the health and wellness category is too lucrative to cede much more share to private brands. Innovation too is paramount. Price is more elastic if you have a brand retailers don’t.

Based on The Hartman Group’s research and my own, health and wellness as a movement among Americans is only going to grow bigger. As such, so is the new wellness marketplace for CPG companies.

Self-care and mindfulness as part of the wellness umbrella are becoming almost the norm among Millennials and Gen Z. My bet is they’ll carry those practices on as they age. Wellness is ever-evolving. CPG companies need to follow the change.

Original article soured from https://www.just-food.com