Natural Foods Merchandiser

Women's Health: Attitudes And Behaviors

Because most women perceive themselves as healthy, positive marketing to women to enhance performance or protect their health long term has great appeal. However, with the staggering majority of women claiming they are not only self-treating but also diagnosing their own ailments—and very confident in doing so—it's time for food and supplements marketers alike to capitalize on and embrace the new movement to self-treatment and eschewing of professional medical care.

Health Status
The Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta confirms that women had a feeling of mental or physical well-being an average of 25 out of 30 days. Working women, college graduates and women living in South Dakota, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Kansas perceive themselves as healthy most frequently, the CDC says.

Each generational group has a slightly different view of what "healthy" means. A joint survey by the Food Marketing Institute and Prevention magazine reports that Generation X women are much more likely to say "healthy" means being physically fit and strong. Baby Boomers cite being free of health problems or diseases, the survey says, while mature women agree with parts of these views but are also more likely to mention "being able to do what I want." Not surprisingly, the perception of being in "excellent/very good" health decreases with age.

Desire For Added Nutrition Soars
Women have become less confident in their ability to satisfy all their nutritional requirements through diet alone. According to Gallup's "2001 Focus Report on Women's Changing Health Care Needs," in the past six years, there has been a 24 percent decline in the proportion who agreed that they are "confident that the foods they eat satisfy all of their nutritional requirements." This decline has been accompanied by an increase in the proportion of women who believe "you really need to take vitamin supplements to get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet." More than 40 percent of women surveyed mentioned a special need for vitamins C and E, fiber and B vitamins. And, it's about time they took action. A recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture confirmed that 83 percent of women don't receive the RDA for zinc, vitamin B6 (64 percent), iron (62 percent), folic acid (46 percent), riboflavin (39 percent), thiamin (38 percent), niacin (32 percent), protein (31percent) and vitamin B12 (29 percent).

According to the Hartman Group of Bellevue, Wash., multivitamins, calcium, vitamin E, vitamin C, B-complex, garlic, zinc, ginkgo and glucosamine topped women's "most used" supplements list. In addition, Information Resources Inc. of Chicago reports soy supplements sales have grown to $41 million annually. The "Confidential Women's Health Study," prepared by Beta Research of Syosset, N.Y., verifies that women's awareness of health-enhancing ingredients is high; calcium (92 percent), aloe vera (89 percent), antioxidants (85 percent), garlic (85 percent), ginseng (79 percent), ginkgo biloba (75 percent), green tea (73 percent) and echinacea (54 percent).

Food As Medicine
Women clearly have health on their minds while shopping at the grocery store, according to the Food Marketing Institute/Prevention magazine's series "Shopping for Health." As seen in the chart on this page, nearly every food shopper (95 percent)—predominantly women—say their food purchases are "at least a little affected" by some health concerns, whether it is controlling fat or cholesterol, following the advice of their doctor, or slowing the aging process. About half of the shoppers surveyed feel "very strongly" that by eating healthfully today, they can avoid health problems later in life. The majority of women grocery shoppers believe eating healthfully is a better way to deal with illnesses than taking medicine; nine in 10 think they can "greatly or somewhat" reduce their risk of getting certain diseases by eating healthfully, and a similar percentage agrees that it is very or somewhat likely that fruits, vegetables and grains contain naturally occurring substances that can help prevent serious disease such as heart disease and cancer. Further, HealthFocus of Atlanta says that 54 percent of women grocery shoppers believe that foods can replace some drugs.

But perhaps most significant is that 72 percent of grocery shoppers are trying to "lower the risk" of multiple conditions and diseases and 58 percent are "trying to manage or treat a condition" via their shopping choices. And, natural solutions are becoming more important too. In 1995, only 15 percent of shoppers in the FMI/Prevention survey series were trying to avoid artificial ingredients, additives, preservatives, etc.; jumping to 66 percent in 2000. The efforts of shoppers to greatly or somewhat "slow down the aging process" through foods more than doubled, from 22 percent in 1998 to 48 percent in 2000, while food intolerances made it into the top 10 list of health influences on grocery shopping for the first time.

Today's food shoppers use a wide variety of products to maintain health, from fortified foods to organic and homeopathic products and in-home test kits. Not surprisingly, food retailers are organizing special "whole health" sections combining and cross merchandising food with the pharmacy, supplements aisle and even natural personal products and cosmetics. Dubbed the "self-care movement" by FMI, this new hands-on approach to health is estimated to be a $42 billion retail opportunity.

It is clear that women's growing interest in self-care—for themselves and their family as well—presents a variety of opportunities for the grocery as well as the supplements industry. These interests should only increase as the average age of the American population increases during the next decade. Young and middle-aged consumers are also less trusting of health care professionals and are exploring alternative self-care approaches to health such as herbal remedies and homeopathy. Retailers have an opportunity to tap into this self-care interest and position themselves as providers of whole-health solutions just as the momentum of age-related and self-care health needs really starts to develop.

Series Part I: Women's Health Market: Potential and Direction
Series Part III: Women's Health Market: Concerns and Conditions
Series Part IV: Women's Health Market: Megamarkets, Nuances And Emerging Segments

A. Elizabeth Sloan, M.D., is the president of Sloan Trends & Solutions Inc., in Escondido, Calif. Contact her at 760.741.9611, or e-mail [email protected]

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXII/number 11/p. 10, 16-17

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