Help consumers take control of their future wellness

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to interview a select group of mainstream consumers from across the country about how they define “healthy living,” and the barriers that keep them from leading a healthy lifestyle. While a group of families answered surveys and filled in workbooks and journals, I also video interviewed several other families in their homes. We called this research "The Future of Wellness."

Not surprising, what I discovered was that how people defined healthy living and their own aspirations to lead a healthy lifestyle were completely out of sync with how they actually live and the reality of their lives. As one participant said, “I think one thing humans tend to do is say one thing while doing another. Never is this more apparent than when it comes to health and wellness.”

But aside from our population being increasingly obese, increasingly riddled with type 2 diabetes and food allergies, and on pain killers, anti-anxiety drugs, supplements for joint pain, or meds to lower blood pressure or cholesterol, the most disturbing finding to me was that people are “emotionally not ready” to take on leading a healthy lifestyle. They’re tired, stressed, challenged by finances, lacking time and information, and the last thing they want is to be riddled with guilt and shame for not doing the right thing. So they simply don’t have the mental headspace to try to be healthy. To me, this is a very sad state of affairs.

And this isn’t to say that people don’t want to live healthier. They do. They are starting to realize that if they lose weight or get healthier they feel better. And in some cases, they’re even able to reverse their medical predicaments. As one person expressed, “Just like 10 pounds, and I’m up to 16 now, had a big impact on my blood sugar and my high blood pressure. I just didn’t realize, I probably would have tried harder to lose 10 pounds if I knew it would do that.”

Paralyzed by not knowing

But more often than not people don’t try because they’re paralyzed by not knowing what to do, by a lack of direction. There is a reason that Weight Watcher’s stock has been at all time high recently. People confuse “weight loss” and “dieting” with “healthy living.” But at the same time, a diet is very concise. People understand it. You want to lose 10 pounds? Here’s what you can and can’t eat, here is how you will lose 10 pounds. But this is where the guilt and shame come in as well. If a consumer strays from the diet or gains back the 10 pounds she feels like a failure, or she feels guilty for eating a chocolate chip cookie. There is a formula to losing weight (even if the weight doesn’t stay off), but there isn’t a similar easy path to follow for “healthy living.” There isn’t one objective that defines healthy living. It’s very gray.

In not feeling mentally ready to take on living healthier, we can blame the media for putting out unrealistic images of who and what we should be, but we can also blame manufacturers and retailers for not helping consumers more at the point of purchase. Don’t get me wrong, some stores do a very good of this, but others don’t realize people no longer know how to cook and consumers are busier than ever. So when someone walks into a grocery store they have to know what they want for dinner. They have to know how to cook quinoa, and they need to have their supplement regimen outlined in their head to know what to buy.  Most stores don’t offer recipes or information on the shelves. Or they don’t adequately connect consumers to more information on web sites, which is where most consumers garner their information these days.

Unrealistic expectations: potato chips to organic kale?

It seems that we’ve asked people to go from being overweight to looking like a supermodel, or from eating potato chips to eating organic kale. Or in the case of supplements, we ask people to understand what all the little pills in a bottle mean and to figure out which ones work for them, to create their own supplement health plan.  We’ve asked people to go it alone in figuring things out, while at the same time we haven’t given people permission to go from Lay’s potato chips to eating Lay’s baked potato chips and to celebrate that as a victory.  We haven’t given consumers permission to take one step at a time.

When eating, people say they shop the perimeter of the grocery stores, but in our research and in reality, a lot of people are turning to fast food a lot, because it’s so easy and cheap. Similarly, people want to take supplements, but more often than not they avoid the supplement section all together.

This week at the 14th annual Nutrition Business Journal Summit in Newport Beach, my colleague will present some of our findings in relation to the supplement industry. How do we turn the tide so that supplements feel accessible to mainstream consumers instead of a section of the store that is easy to walk past and feels to cumbersome and expensive to embrace if you don’t know what you’re supposed to take?

“As our economic situation gets better I would like to research it more and invest more in vitamins. When you go into Henry’s and right to the right is the whole vitamins section and I just kind of avoid it because I can’t even go there right now, but I would like to browse in there and read the labels,” explained one consumer.

The people we talked to know that they should take supplements, they’re thinking about taking supplements, but still it’s an easy area of the store to avoid. Although supplements are challenged by regulations limiting what they can or can’t say on a labels, why can’t supplements be better integrated within the store?

New ideas for presenting supplements in stores

Rather than having supplements in their own section where consumers can choose to engage or ignore them, why not integrate them throughout the store and make them more accessible and easy to understand, or even show that there are private label vitamins, for instance, that aren’t expensive. An easy start would be to have the calcium, vitamin C and vitamin D next to the dairy or juice sections. Or put kids’ vitamins in the cereal aisle. Help consumers make the connection to supplements. Help them make one choice, or take one step, to set them in the right direction.

Part of helping consumers take steps in the right direction is not speaking at them but having a conversation with them. Making it easy for them to navigate products, such as integrating supplements throughout a retail environment.

Consumers are looking for help. They want to be shown the way without being told what to do. They don’t want to be told something is great, they want to “understand the practical, legitimate use of products.” They like instructional videos, they look for expert endorsements that they can trust on TV and on the web—think Dr. Oz. They love sampling products before they buy. We talk about health and wellness, nutrition and sustainability in schools with kids, and this has a trickle effect at home. But we have stopped having these conversations as adults. 

So start having these conversations again. Shop with your customers. Eat with your customers. Bake cookies with your customers. Buy supplements with your customers. Observe your customers’ friends and community online. Ultimately, choose products with your customers. Talk to your customers and figure out their barriers to leading a healthier lifestyle and help them overcome the barrier. And in doing so, you will help remove the pressure and the guilt from the conversation.

As one participant said, “I don’t like the guilt of health and wellness, I like the joy in it and keeping your eyes open. If you can be a little present and pay attention, and just have a little sensitivity to it. You will get a behavior change in yourself and maybe the people around you. I don’t think there are these gigantic steps that any of us can realistically make, so that little bit here and there is all you can ask for.”

People want to be healthy, they want to rise above their day-to -day challenges, stress, ailments, sleep deprivation, and be the best that they can be. Help them take one step at a time to move toward being healthier, and then help them celebrate so they stay encouraged to make the next move, not discouraged. No guilt, no shame, no blame. 

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