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Consumer motivations behind the increasing take-up of healthier and functional food and drinks are not just about seeking better health, according to a new report from Business Insights. Moreover, the report points out some striking national variations in the cultural reaction to the health and wellness trend.

We may be living in a world where health is deteriorating, but according to a new report it is not health concerns directly that are driving consumers to seek out more and more healthier product variants and functional foods and drinks, but the desire to look good and feel good.

The Business Insights report - Targeting the Healthy Consumer: Fast Growth Markets and Future Trends - suggests that the key drivers are physical and emotional, rather than simply concerns about health. This is in spite of the fact that, as the report also reveals, more than 17m people worldwide now die each year from heart disease and 155m schoolchildren, one-in-ten worldwide, are overweight or obese.

"An obesity epidemic, that raises long-term health issues for all consumers in the
developed world, is increasing globally," the report states. "However, many people still do not realise the seriousness of the situation and many who recognise a problem do not want to change their behaviour."

In order to benchmark consumer attitudes towards health, Business Insights surveyed food and drink industry executives and asked respondents to rate the importance of seven different consumer attitudes towards health in driving the uptake of health products.

Some 69.4% of respondents said they believed consumers rated proactive health maintenance as an important or the most important driver in the uptake of healthy products. However, when respondents were asked how important they rated consumers' desire to look and feel good, 75.8% of respondents rated these as the most important drivers in the consumption of healthier products. "This indicates that key drivers of the uptake of healthy food and drinks are physical and emotional, rather than serious health concerns such as increasing rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes," the report states. "Marketers could use this in their marketing of healthy products, and focus less on the scientific aspect of functional ingredients."

Business Insights also asked food and drink executives how consumer attitudes towards health are likely to change over the coming five years. Some 80.6% of industry executives agreed or strongly agreed that over the next five years, consumers will change their attitudes towards health by increasing their intake of functional products, although at the same time they will continue to indulge.

The report looks at the issue of food and health not only in terms of consumer attitudes, but also through the analysis of epidemiology, levels of expenditure on health, government preventive health activity, and manufacturer and retailer strategies across Europe, the US and Japan.

Using the prevalence of major diseases, it rates the "health" of each country. Japan is the most heart healthy nation, with the lowest prevalence of cardiovascular disease of the seven major developed countries. Germany, the UK, France and the US are countries that have the highest overall level of cardiovascular disease.  Japan has highest life expectancy and the lowest prevalence of overweight and obese people. The US, by contrast, has the lowest rate of life expectancy of the seven countries, and the largest proportion of its population that is overweight or obese.

However, the report also concludes there are significant differences between the attitudes of a nation's consumers to the health and wellness trend and that country's actual health rating, which are in some cases inversely proportional, because cultural dietary factors have kept down the prevalence of major disease and negated the perceived need for functional and healthier products.

"Italians and Spaniards seem to have the worst attitudes to health, possibly because of their traditional culture of a naturally healthy diet," the report states. "Italians have the lowest perception among the major European nations of their own health and are the least interested in exercise." However, as the report points out, Italy is among the "healthiest" countries in Europe in terms of the prevalence of major diseases.

One clear exception to this is Japan which enjoys the highest health rating in epidemiological terms, but also has a high volume of consumer interest in gaining better health, and in the adoption of healthy and functional products.

However, Japan aside there is a strong suggestion that the biggest opportunities for functional foods and drinks could be found in less "healthy" countries. "Many US, German and UK consumers are genuinely interested in achieving better health, but their countries broadly rank as unhealthy, while Southern European consumers are broadly healthier, but most lack any ambition to join the battle with obesity and pursue a healthier lifestyle in the future," says the report. One example of this is the heart healthy product category in the US. "The highest proportion of heart healthy products was launched in the US, indicating heart health is a leading trend in innovation in the country."

Indeed, the report points out that the US has the biggest functional food market with Japan not far behind, although the per capita spend in Japan is of course much higher.

The market for functional foods and drinks in Europe is much smaller because of stricter labelling legislation, so while there are good growth rates in Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden, the US and Japan will provide much bigger growth increments. "The Japanese and Americans spend the most money on functional food and drinks and are likely to lead the way in the health market in the future," the report states. So the report throws up the interesting finding that the greatest opportunities for functional products going forward are to be found in the two countries which by most measures employed in the report have the best and worst health.

For more information or to download the Business Insights report Targeting the Healthy Consumer: Fast Growth Markets and Future Trends, click here.

Sectors: Soft drinks, Water

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