While the increasing prevalence of obesity in Eastern Europe is slowing its trajectory, it is concerning is that 58% of Eastern Europeans ARE overweight, but only 50% of them THINK they are and fewer still 45% are ACTIVELY trying to lose weight. These figures are very different to other regions, who are more conscious of the obesity issue and are actively doing something about it. Raising awareness and converting that awareness into action is pivotal for Eastern Europe.
Eastern European consumers are becoming more discerning about food choices. Many are willing to pay more for products that don’t contain undesirable ingredients and seek out local, natural organic alternatives where possible to help them make healthier food choices.
CONSUMERS: THE NEW PRODUCT LABEL POLICE
As consumers become more aware of and attuned to the consequences of their food choices, they are paying more attention to nutritional labels. Almost three in four East European consumers say they want to know everything that is going into their food.
The European Commission introduced mandatory nutritional labelling for all member states in December 2016 requiring specification of fats, carbohydrates, sugars, protein and salt amounts to be added to the label in the “field of vision” – usually on the back of pack. Front of pack labelling remains voluntary. It is this variation across the broader region, where some countries outside of the European Union have minimal or no labelling requirements that makes implementation difficult to achieve and places a significant burden on cross border marketing. This can be a major consideration when companies are planning to enter new markets or manufacture regional products.
GOVERNMENTS OF THE WORLD TAKE ACTION TOO
It is widely recognised that tackling obesity is not a simple task but one that requires a holistic approach across consumers, governments and businesses.
In January 2016, the Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity (ECHO) presented its recommendations to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General on which approaches and combinations of interventions would be most effective in tackling childhood and adolescent obesity in different contexts around the world.
While the sugar tax (a tax imposed on companies manufacturing products with high sugar content) has been around in some countries for a number of years, typical views on the rate at which companies should be taxed are shifting to a much higher percentage. Health taxes are not new in Europe where early adopters like Denmark and France imposed health taxes at around 3%, and in Hungary where the average price of soda increase by 10%. But in many European markets discussions are taking place in parliaments such as Spain and Portugal and in the UK and Ireland where significantly higher taxes are in the realms of 19%. In other markets around the world like South Africa and India, taxes as high as 20 and 40% are being considered.
The introduction of such wide-sweeping health regulations and legislature cannot be ignored. Governments are waking up to the true underlying cost of obesity-related disease on their healthcare budgets and medical infrastructure, and are implementing a host of health initiatives, from sugar taxes and new product labelling laws to food education in the classroom.
STATUS QUO IS NOT AN OPTION FOR CORPORATIONS
Corporate awareness of swelling health concerns and the role manufactured food plays is high. Some companies are tackling the issue head on, with health initiatives high on their corporate radar. Four key strategies are at play across corporations today to address health and wellness concerns:
- Resize and restrict: Downsized packaging and communicate that products should only be consumed on an occasional basis or as a treat.
- Reformulate the recipe: Reduce products’ sugar/fat/salt content.
- Diversify the range: Shift offerings away from high sugar/fat products and focus advertising on healthier range offerings in their portfolio.
- Fight for the cause: Total refocus on create functional or fortified product ranges which aid in the prevention of obesity and chronic disease.
In the wake of this recent wave of new “health-oriented” marketing, consumer scepticism and demand for authenticity from brands has never been higher. Across Eastern Europe, scepticism remains high with more than three in five (63%) believing health claims are just a way for food and beverage companies to charge more for their products. Authenticity is key and a noticeable trend is evident with some big players investing in small, health focused start-up companies to tap into both niche and emerging trends and channel health know how.
SIX WAYS TO APPEAL TO THE HEART OF THE HEALTH-CONSCIOUS CONSUMER
In order to stay one step ahead of emerging and future food trends, it is critical companies take a proactive stance in a handful of key areas, including:
- Transparency on ingredients and labelling
- Adopting natural, simple ingredients
- Changing the formulation of a product to be healthier
- Explore opportunities in proven functional foods
- Leverage technology to enrich the consumer experience and create healthy relationship with consumers
- Measure, monitor and self-regulate
With heightening awareness of the burden obesity places on social and financial health systems, Eastern Europe is already on the cusp of a health revolution. Now it’s up to manufacturers, businesses and governments to work together to support and drive the revolution forward.
If you want to continue the dialogue about the health revolution please contact your local Nielsen client service team.
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