Health and wellness have become increasingly important for consumers around the world, including the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). In fact, health and wellness has been a top priority for consumers in the region for several years now. According to a recent Nielsen global survey, more than two-thirds of respondents in United Arab Emirates (UAE, 67%) and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA, 66%) said they actively make dietary choices to help prevent health conditions. But consumers don’t just want to eat more healthfully; they are also looking to lead a more healthful lifestyle in general.
Nielsen has identified the key themes summarizing health and wellness trends in key GCC markets in recent years and how retailers and manufacturers can collaborate to realize the full potential as consumers search for better, more healthful solutions that are compatible with their lifestyles and needs.
“Health and wellness is an evolving segment in the GCC markets, as it is for the rest of the world. While consumers strive to lead healthier lives, food manufacturers and retailers are important partners in supporting consumers in looking after their well-being. Our findings show that there is a huge demand for products that cater to both consumers’ healthful dietary as well as lifestyle needs, but only less than half of the consumers believe that their needs are being fully met with current product offerings available in the markets (52% UAE, 60% KSA),” said Arslan Ashraf, Managing Director, Arabian Peninsula and Pakistan, Nielsen. “This presents a good opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers to fully realize the growth potential in this space through innovation. Manufacturers should review their portfolios and continue to innovate by incorporating or removing undesirable ingredients to improve the nutritional profile of their products. At the same time, retailers may want to look beyond a single category or department, and recognize that health and wellness matters across the entire store by carrying an array of healthful options to cater to these needs. It also important to be mindful that cost, taste and convenience are still very important factors in consumers’ purchase decisions, so look for opportunities to combine these attributes.”
Seven Key Health and Wellness Themes
Holistic health from body to mind: Health and wellness is no longer a nice-to-have and it’s not just a physical thing. Nielsen research has found that being healthy is as much about emotional and social wellbeing as it is about physical wellbeing. Notably, consumers are seeking to maintain body balance by eating healthfully exercising regularly for peace of mind in order to ultimately feel socially accepted by looking fit.
Health that shows: In the quest for an acceptable social image, a significant portion (95%) of GCC consumers have cosmetic and obesity-related health concerns. According to a recent Nielsen study on women in the GCC the top three health concerns are being overweight (52%), having high-cholesterol (33%) and hair health / losing hair (30%). The study also found that fatigue and stress are also a concern among women (28%).
Concern for obesity: The perception of being overweight and concern to lose weight are reported by much higher proportion in the UAE and KSA than the global average, reflecting the number of individuals who are conscious and have taken this health issue in their stride. More than half in the GCC say they feel overweight (51% UAE, 55% KSA) and trying to lose weight (63% UAE, 65% KSA), higher than the global average (49% and 50% respectively). Comparatively, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports obesity levels of 37% in UAE and 35% in KSA, three times the global average (13%). As a result almost three-fourths of consumers in the GCC participate in some form of physical activity – 73% of respondents in UAE and 72% in KSA.
Diet management as key strategy: Consumers are increasingly opting for specialized diets that address their desire to eat organic, low-fat, low sugar, low-carb, or eliminate ingredients based on food sensitivities, allergies or personal convictions. Approximately two-thirds of respondents say they actively make dietary choices to help prevent health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and hypertension (67% UAE and 66% KSA). Diets that limit the amount of fat or sugar are most common (39% and 32% for UAE) and (41% and 25% for KSA).
Value for natural goodness and fortification: Many strongly or somewhat agree that foods without artificial ingredients are always more healthful (68% UAE and 73% KSA), according to Nielsen’s Global Health and Ingredients-Sentiment Survey. All natural products lead the way in popularity, cited by 55% and 58% for UAE and KSA respondents, respectively. In addition, more than four in 10 respondents in UAE and KSA wish for more products with no artificial colors (46%, 46%), or flavors (41%, 43%) and more products with reduced sugar (44%, 44%) or fat content (44%, 43%). Two-thirds of consumers (65% UAE and 65% KSA) said they were willing to pay more for foods without undesirable ingredients.
Healthy indulgence is attractive and premium: While many consumers are making dietary changes for health reasons, there is always room for food indulgences, as they still want to treat themselves. Nielsen’s retail measurement data FY 2015 vs FY 2014 shows that some healthy processed foods are commanding a price premium, thus indicating that value-for-money is multi-dimensional in the health and wellness space. These categories include dark chocolates, baked salty snacks, fiber/light biscuits and green tea. Manufacturers should think beyond traditionally healthful categories and look at making the indulgences a little less sinful.
Health and wellness as innovation differentiator: Despite the opportunity to innovate with respect to healthy foods, taste remains the top choice driver. Removing or replacing undesirable ingredients is a good starting point, but manufacturers should be mindful of how this may affect taste. New product development remains critical; it can encompass everything from creating a new version of traditional favorites using alternative ingredients to creating products with an entirely new taste experience.