The biggest news from the Natural Product Expo West 2016 is that the sale of healthy foods is now mainstream. A record 43 percent of Americans now say they make their food and beverage purchases using the criteria of human and environmental health. Healthier food is on the threshold of being what the majority of Americans eat.
Mass retailers selling healthy foods is now a mega-trend
The sale of healthier food and beverages has achieved mega-trend status in less than a decade. Costco is now the largest retailer of organic food. 7-Eleven, the purveyor of Big Gulp sodas, launched a healthy food line in 2014. From Walmart to Kroger, the retail industry is now mainstreaming the sale of healthier foods.
Consumers are driving this mega-trend. They are demanding healthier food at record levels. Natural and organic foods won over 10 percent sales growth in 2015 at a time when our economy was achieving only a 2 percent annual growth rate.
Sell more plus charge more!
Retailers are learning that they can charge more for sustainably-sourced and healthier foods. One in three consumers are willing to pay 10 percent more for foods that are:
- Produced by paying fair wages and in safe working conditions
- Produced without an environmental footprint that contributes to global warming
Retailers and food manufacturers still failing to align with consumers
For all the sales success retailers and food manufacturers are achieving, they still lag in meeting a growing consumer expectation for healthier food that is grown sustainably. A stunning 75 percent of consumers believe food manufacturers are more focused on profits than human health. Less than 35 percent believe food manufacturers have a human health focus.
Consumers want foods and beverages with less:
- Artificial ingredients and coloring
- Artificial sweeteners and flavors
- Genetically modified foods or ingredients
Consumers want to buy foods and beverages that have these three key attributes:
- Mission based. Consumers want their purchases to contribute toward a greater good. Thirty-seven percent of consumers are more likely to buy from companies that donate to worthwhile causes.
- Repurposing of ingredients. Consumers want less food waste. They want to see food waste to be repurposed rather than tossed in a landfill where it will then decay into global-warming methane gas.
- Ethical and sustainable production. Consumers are gravitating toward grass-feed beef. They are exploring plant-based foods as an alternative to meats that have issues tied to animal cruelty and climate-changing emissions. They seek humanely-grown foods like eggs harvested from uncaged chickens. Driving this attribute is the 56 percent of consumers who feel personally responsible for protecting the environment and 52 percent of consumers who wish they could do more.
Will the consumer shift to healthier food solve America’s health crisis?
Is the cup half full or half empty regarding the consumer shift toward healthier food? It is hugely encouraging that healthier food and beverages are achieving mainstream sales levels. Americans are buying healthier foods at a faster growth rate than industrial food.
The challenge is that America is in a weight crisis. This crisis threatens to bankrupt Medicare from a boomer generation seeking pills and medical care to mitigate their obesity and diabetes epidemic. Half of Generation Z, the first generation born in the 21st century, is projected to be obese during their lifetime. A healthier food culture’s higher growth rate may not be fast enough to keep America from plunging over a health cliff that will create significant levels of human and financial pain.
When this happens (it is no longer a question of “if” due to the size of the problem), the question the food and beverage industry must confront is: Who will Americans blame? Will consumers look at themselves, or will they point the finger at an industry in which 75 percent of consumers feel companies are emphasizing profits over health?
To the food and beverage industry’s credit, it is trying to align with consumers. But its efforts are incremental compared to the disruptive improvements required to prevent a health catastrophe. The Coca Cola Co. may be offering smaller 8-ounce soda bottles, but it still measures itself on growing soda sales even with the increased evidence that soda consumption is a huge reason why America is in a weight crisis. Kraft, Taco Bell, General Mills and Campbell Soup should be recognized for taking steps to decrease the amount of artificial ingredients in their foods. But there is growing evidence that consumers are ignoring this incremental progress and are instead avoiding grocery stores, fast-food restaurants and industrially-produced foods as a best practice for losing weight.
With a record 70,000 in attendance, the Natural Product Expo West is an encouraging demonstration of a food and beverage industry pushing itself toward meaningful change. The consumer’s question is whether food/beverage companies can be trusted to deliver the price-competitive, tasty and good-for-you products needed to solve a national weight crisis threatening America’s health and health care costs.
Image courtesy of the author