Half of consumers around the world in Nielsen’s Global Health & Wellness Survey say they’re actively trying to lose weight, and 75% of them plan to achieve that goal by changing their diet. Unfortunately, the road to good health isn’t always paved with good intentions. So do desires materialize where it counts—at the point of sale? A review of purchasing trends between 2012 and 2014 for selected healthy, indulgent and semi-healthy categories sheds light on what consumers are buying when they get to the register.
Globally, sales of both healthy and indulgent categories grew over the two-year period, but growth in healthy categories outpaced indulgent categories (+5% and +2%, respectively). Sales of semi-healthy categories fell 1%. Healthy categories in the study include dairy-based shakes, fruit, sports drinks, tea, vegetables, water and yogurt. Indulgent categories include carbonated soft drinks, chips, chocolate and cookies/biscuits. Semi-healthy categories include bread, cheese, cereal, granola bars, juice, popcorn and pretzels.
“The growth of healthy options does not automatically come at the expense of indulgent offerings,” said Susan Dunn, executive vice president, Global Professional Services, Nielsen. “There is room for both healthy foods and occasional treats in consumers’ diets. So it’s the semi-healthy options that are most affected. To drive growth for these offerings, manufacturers should look for areas where they can improve the nutritional profile of foods and highlight the health benefits their products provide to consumers.”
Around the world, healthy categories reported the strongest sales growth in developing regions. Sales grew 20% in Africa/Middle East, 16% in Latin America and 15% in Asia-Pacific. Indulgent categories also grew in developing regions, but at a slower rate than healthy categories (+11% in Africa/Middle East, +7% in Latin America, +5% in Asia-Pacific).
In North America, sales of healthy categories grew 7% over the two-year period, but sales of semi-healthy and indulgent categories declined (-3% and -2%, respectively). The decline in indulgent categories in the region was driven by the decline in carbonated soft drinks, which fell 8%. Conversely, sales of chips and chocolate grew 3% and 5%, respectively, over the same period. Meanwhile, in Europe, only indulgent categories grew, rising 1%, while sales of healthy and semi-healthy categories declined (-2% and -1%, respectively).Healthy hydration was on the minds and in the shopping baskets of consumers, with sports drinks, water and fruit among the strongest-growing healthy categories. Sales of sports drinks increased 8% globally (rising in all regions except Europe [-6%]), but developing regions primarily drove growth. Over the past two years, sports drinks sales increased 51% in Asia-Pacific, 25% in Africa/Middle East and 10% in Latin America. Sales of water (+7% globally) also grew in all regions, but growth was particularly strong in developing regions (+23% in Asia-Pacific, +18% in Africa/Middle East and +19% in Latin America).
Do health claims on package labels help boost sales? The two-year review of purchasing data indicates that these claims are strongest when added to products already considered healthy. Healthy products with packaging callouts tend to outperform the category as a whole. The effectiveness of label claims for semi-healthy and indulgent categories, however, seems to depend on consumers’ perceptions of the product. Sales of potato chips with whole-grain labeling, for example, decreased 11% between 2012 and 2014, but sales of potato chips with low or reduced sodium increased 18%. Consumers may think of potato chips as a salty snack, so a low-sodium option may be more appealing than whole grain.
Which health attributes are considered very important in purchasing decisions? Foods that are all natural (43%), made from fruits/vegetables (40%) and organic (33%) are among the most favored preferences for global respondents. Sales figures reflect these preferences, as products with “natural” and “organic” claims grew 24% and 28%, respectively, over the two-year period. Also consistent with the interest in more pure/natural products, sales of artificially sweetened “diet/light” products declined 12%, while products naturally sweetened with Stevia grew 186%.
Sales of products with healthy ingredient claims are also growing across categories. Products with claims about low or reduced sodium and the addition of real fruit both grew 7% over the past two years, while products with reduced or no fat content claims grew 4%.
Other findings from Nielsen’s recent Health & Wellness report include:
For more detail and insight, download Nielsen’s Global Health & Wellness report.
The findings in this survey are based on respondents with online access across 60 countries. While an online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides a perspective only on the habits of existing Internet users, not total populations. In developing markets where online penetration has not reached majority potential, audiences may be younger and more affluent than the general population of that country. Additionally, survey responses are based on claimed behavior, rather than actual metered data.