p>What motivates Asian and European consumers? US research company HealthFocus International has just completed the most comprehensive survey ever undertaken of worldwide consumers' attitudes to nutrition. Here, Lyn Ciocca analyses the data from select markets with exclusive excerpts from the groundbreaking 30-nation study
It's common knowledge that the US, Japan and the UK are the world's biggest and most dynamic functional foods and nutraceuticals markets. But they do not define the market. Demand is burgeoning all over the world, and other markets are becoming increasingly sophisticated, as the latest HealthFocus report demonstrates.
According to the research, while most shoppers worldwide are making healthy choices, they do so for different reasons. It is critical to understand consumer motivations for making these choices, and the sense of control they feel they have over their health as a result. The HealthFocus segmentation identifies six primary consumer target segments for health and nutrition products. On the proactive side, the segments are Disciples, Managers and Investors. Healers and Strugglers are reactive, and Unmotivateds are passive about making healthy choices (See "Know Your Target").
Although Europe is often regarded as a unified entity, it is in fact made up of many unique markets, each with their own idiosyncrasies. In Europe, one size definitely does not fit all despite a push to harmonise regulations throughout the continent for supplements, botanicals and functional food ingredients. Consumer habits and patterns vary — sometimes significantly — between nations. Scandinavians shop differently from southern Europeans, who differ from other nations such as Germany and the Netherlands. Knowing the differences in consumer behaviour, then, can give companies the critical edge to launch new products successfully.
Germany And The Netherlands: Proactive Purchasers
According to HealthFocus International, nearly four out of five German and Dutch shoppers choose foods and beverages for health reasons on at least some occasions. When they make healthy choices, they are likely to do so from a proactive position and with a strong sense of control over their health. Both Dutch and German shoppers feel able to manage their health based on the dietary and lifestyle choices they make. They share a strong sense of control over their short-term health. German shoppers also have a strong sense of control over their future health and believe if they take care of their health day-to-day, the long term will take care of itself.
Still, their motivations for making healthy choices are different. More than two out of three German shoppers are Managers or Investors, making healthy choices for daily health benefits or to ensure future good health. Only one in three Dutch shoppers is an Investor, a quarter are Managers and 14 per cent are Strugglers.
"German Managers and Investors will find daily health benefits strongly compelling, especially those that lay a strong foundation for future health. Dutch Investors and Strugglers will find future health benefits anchored in small, gradual changes to diet and lifestyle most compelling," observes Linda Klabacha, HealthFocus International research director.
Two out of three Dutch and German shoppers believe certain foods can help prevent disease, ensure long-term health and enhance daily health. In addition to naturally nutritious foods such as whole grains and fruits and vegetables, about 40 per cent of German and Dutch shoppers agree it is important to choose foods and beverages that have been fortified with added vitamins and minerals.
"There is a high acceptance of natural products in Germany coming from the strong herbal medicines tradition, which is an accepted medical therapy prescribed by physicians," says Dr Joerg Gruenwald, president of German-based Phytopharm Research and Consulting. "But Germans are penny-pinchers so price is an issue. GM products are particularly hated and have practically no chance of doing well here at the moment."
When it comes to nutrients, German shoppers are the most aware of the health benefits of calcium, vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids. With the Dutch, calcium, folic acid, vitamin E, and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables register most strongly. Shoppers in both Germany and the Netherlands are interested in learning more about foods that boost the immune system, foods that reduce risk of disease, foods that enhance health, and cancer-preventing chemicals in fruits, vegetables and grains.
Italy And Portugal: Taste Is Tops
Italians exhibit high levels of health involvement, with more than 82 per cent selecting foods for health reasons on a regular basis. A comparatively small 62 per cent of Portuguese shoppers choose foods on this basis.
Like most European shoppers, the Portuguese make healthy choices from a proactive position and with a strong sense of control over their health. The majority of shoppers are Managers and Investors, although like the Netherlands, Portugal has a greater number of Strugglers (14 per cent). Portugal also has a higher incidence of Healers (13 per cent) compared to Italy, Germany or the Netherlands. "By targeting Portuguese Investors, it is likely that marketers could also appeal to Healers in Portugal, but targeting Healers would likely alienate Investors," advises Klabacha.
Italian shoppers describe their health as good and are generally satisfied with the healthiness of their diets. This is hardly surprising given healthy foods and beverages are intrinsic to their lifestyle and culture. They differ from the Portuguese, however, in that Italian shoppers have less confidence in their ability to manage their health through nutrition choices, compared to other European shoppers: 51 per cent of Italian shoppers agree staying healthy is more a matter of luck than anything else.
Italians report stress, tiredness, gastrointestinal problems and arthritis as principal health problems, while for the Portuguese, obesity, tiredness, stress and allergies are the most common ailments.
Taste is very important to Italian shoppers — with few willing to sacrifice taste for any health benefits. "In Italy taste is always important," says Dr Anna Arnoldi, professor of food chemistry at the University of Milan. "Thus a food modified to become functional must have the same taste as normal foods to be successful. Italians are obsessed with 'natural' foods and there is little interest in 'industrial' functional foods."
Portuguese shoppers also place a high priority on the enjoyment of the culinary experience. According to Custodio Cesar, nutritionist and technical director at Portuguese-based supplements distributor, Ecolandia International, the Portuguese are curious about functional foods whilst retaining traditional eating habits.
"Portugal is an emerging market," he observes. "Interest is growing but the Portuguese people enjoy tasty foods. We need to have at least two hot dishes a day — lunch and dinner! The premium price of many of these new foods is also a factor, as is education. We need to have more TV and radio programmes, magazines and nutritionists/dietitians talking and educating people about functional foods."
Freshly cooked meals and labels that say 'fresh' have the greatest leverage. "The Mediterranean countries define healthy by the way a product is processed, prepared or grown, with a strong emphasis on natural, fresh and even organic more than by its nutritional components," observes Klabacha.
The majority of Portuguese and Italian shoppers agree some foods do contain active components that can help prevent disease and ensure long-term health. A majority also agree some foods contain active components that can assist current health, such as improving digestion. More Italians have heard about functional foods than have Portuguese.
Dietary shopping lists in Portugal include fruits, vegetables, fish, bottled water and milk. Milk and fish are also being consumed more often by Portuguese shoppers specifically to reduce risk of disease, as are carrots, olive oil and yoghurt. Italian shoppers are also trying to include more fruits, vegetables and bottled water in their diet for better health. Fish, oranges or orange juice, dark leafy greens, olive oil and milk top the Italian shopping list for disease prevention.
Portuguese shoppers are very receptive to fortification: 81 per cent consider it important to eat foods that are fortified with added vitamins and minerals and 36 per cent always or usually choose foods or beverages because they are fortified. Italian shoppers are less receptive to fortification: 33 per cent agree it is important to eat fortified products and 19 per cent always or usually choose products because they are fortified.
"Marketers in Italy should focus first on communicating the natural goodness of foods and their inherent nutrients. The challenge will be to identify and remove the barriers that are getting in the way of fortified choices," says Klabacha.
Awareness of specific nutrients and their health benefits is stronger in Italy than in Portugal. Italian shoppers are most aware of the health benefits of calcium, vitamins C and E, and omega-3 fatty acids, while awareness levels are also high for antioxidants, prebiotics, probiotics, soy and nuts. Portuguese shoppers are most aware of the health benefits of calcium, vitamin E, and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables.
Leading topics of interest for shoppers in both Italy and Portugal include learning more about foods that boost the immune system, foods that reduce risk of disease, foods that enhance health, and cancer-preventing chemicals in fruits, vegetables and grains.
Sweden And Finland: Innovation Hotbed
Denmark aside, Scandinavia is a hive of functional foods and nutraceuticals development. As Peter Wennström, of Swedish-based consultancy Wennström Integrated, observes, Scandinavians are keener than most to embrace change. "The markets here are very open to innovation and new products," he says. "Studies in The Economist pointed out that Scandinavians are the most open to new technologies."
So much so in Finland that even taste issues aren't the holy grail they are in some other markets, according to Kaarle Leporanta, manager of customer service and marketing in technology licensing and R&D at Finnish dairy company Valio. "Finnish consumers adopt new products rather easily, therefore a somewhat different taste in products is rather easily accepted, if consumers can see the benefits of the product," he notes. "But the Finns like foods. The supplements market is not well developed here."
Swedish shoppers are the least motivated by health choices in this region: 26 per cent of Swedish shoppers rarely or never select foods and beverages for health reasons; 35 per cent always or usually do so. This may be due to the fact that most Swedes consider their diets healthy and are satisfied with their eating habits. Most Swedish shoppers are Managers (57 per cent) with Investors a distant second at 11 per cent.
Just over half of Finnish shoppers always or usually choose foods for healthful reasons, not surprising given the dominance of Managers and Investors in this market. "Knowledge of nutrients is quite high in Finland," says Seppo Seljavaara, president of the Finnish Health Product Wholesalers' and Manufacturers' Association. The Finns are interested in learning more about vitamins and minerals, especially antioxidants and nutrients for healthy skin. High-energy foods and foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics are also of interest. Knowledge of nutrients and their benefits is considerably lower in Sweden.
Swedish and Finnish shoppers are equally likely to choose foods because they do not contain undesirable nutritional qualities than base their choices on nutritionally desirable attributes. "In Scandinavia, there may still be opportunities to leverage a product's lack of undesirable ingredients," observes Klabacha.
Swedes and Finns also agree some foods contain active components that can prevent disease, ensure long-term health or enhance daily health. But only one in five has heard about functional foods. "There is a growing understanding of the term 'functional foods' because health and lifestyle magazines are mentioning the term more frequently. Still, it is more a trade term than a consumer term at this point in time," Wennström notes. Seljavaara agrees: "The term 'functional foods' is not yet very clear to Finns. They understand there are products which lower cholesterol or keep the stomach in order but they don't necessarily know they are called 'functional foods.'
Leporanta notes the influence of education programmes in this area. "Finnish health authorities have launched big campaigns about improving the diet, especially lowering fat and salt intake and increasing fruits and vegetables consumption," he notes. "The same information from different sources such as the media, health authorities, manufacturers and opinion leaders can be very effective."
Swedes and Finns are substantially more likely than other European shoppers to be consuming more functional yoghurts and oat bran or oat cereal. "Finland has the highest consumption of probiotic dairy products in the world: The consumption is approximately 6kg of probiotics per capita per year," says Leporanta. The total consumption of fermented dairy products in Finland is more than 36kg per capita per year.
In Sweden, convenience is king. "If a product can be tasty, healthy, convenient and not too expensive, then that's a bull's-eye product," says Wennström.
Swedish shoppers are more receptive to fortified products than are Finnish shoppers: 55 per cent of Swedish shoppers consider it important to use fortified products and 27 per cent always or usually choose foods and beverages because they are fortified. Only 29 per cent of Finnish shoppers consider it important to use fortified products and 18 per cent always or usually choose foods and beverages because they are fortified.
Poland: Emerging Market There are substantial opportunities opening up in this market as more Poles become interested in healthful shopping. "Only a small number of consumers are niche product buyers at the moment but interest is surging," says Zbigniew K Krauss, president of the Polish Producers Association of Supplements and Nutra-ceuticals. About half of Polish shoppers always or usually choose foods for healthful reasons, while only 16 per cent rarely or never do so.
Polish shoppers live for today — their primary reason for choosing healthy foods and beverages is to improve daily health. Like the Mediterranean countries, taste is paramount to the Polish and nine out of ten choose foods and beverages because they taste good. "There is a perception among Polish shoppers that healthy foods taste worse — but again, this is changing," notes Krauss.
Given lower incomes than many western European nations, there is low tolerance for price premiums. Fresh foods and freshness dating, especially freshly cooked foods that contain vegetables and fruits, are given a high priority by Polish shoppers, the majority of whom are Managers and Investors.
The Poles believe in the power of foods to help maintain good short-term health and to aid health concerns such as stress, GI problems, tiredness and wrinkles and other signs of ageing. They feel it is important to eat foods that are naturally rich in vitamins and minerals as well as foods that are fortified. Over a third of Polish shoppers choose foods because of fortification. "There are significant opportunities for fortified foods and beverages in Poland," says Klabacha. "Although Polish shoppers do not know very much about nutrients and their benefits, they are very interested in learning more." New supplements laws have made it easier to fortify a greater range of foods.
Shopping for health reasons is very common in Asia with only a small percentage rarely or never selecting food for health reasons. This statistic alone presents many opportunities in countries such as China, India, Malaysia and the Philippines, which have shown some of the strongest growth in the functional foods and nutraceuticals area.
China: Live Longer
The diet and health connection is very strong as the Chinese seek longer and healthier lives. The Chinese are in good health and feel they eat healthy foods. Family needs often dictate choice, and parents will seek to lay a strong health foundation for their children. "In China, it's important to look for ways to connect nutrient benefits to healthier families," advises Klabacha.
Chinese shoppers feel a strong sense of control over their short- and long-term health as well as an overall positive sense of wellbeing or 'feeling good.' Healthy food is enjoyed, eaten by choice as much as need, and chosen primarily because it tastes good. Healthy eating is not about sacrifice, or about dieting to lose weight. Only one in ten Chinese people describes himself or herself as overweight.
About one-third of Chinese shoppers are Investors who tend to be more focused on the future wellbeing of their families than their own personal health. Managers make up another third of shoppers. Disciples are also an influence in China: 10 per cent of Chinese shoppers are Disciples, making healthy choices for religious, philosophical or ethical reasons. Taste is less important than in some other markets.
About one-third of Chinese shoppers are Managers and another third are Investors. 'Natural' and 'fresh' are key purchase interest drivers. There is strong resistance to preservatives and foods that are highly processed. "Consumers are fed up with being bombarded by advertisements," says Bill Liang, managing director of California-based, China Healthcare Consulting. "Products and brands rarely last long. Chinese consumers have mixed feelings about functional foods and are very dubious about the claimed functions, due to over-hyping in the past. There is little understanding of the difference between functional foods and nutraceuticals."
Dietary priorities include eating more fruits and vegetables, soy and soy products, and milk. Their disease-prevention shopping lists include fresh beans, milk, fish, carrots and soy, which they hope will help ward off problems such as heart disease, hypertension and a weak immune system. Typical ailments include colds and flu, tiredness and arthritis.
Malaysia And The Philippines: Healthy Shoppers
As in China, the great majority of consumers in Malaysia and the Philippines shop for health purposes (at least 95 per cent).
Shoppers in the Philippines are very proactive about healthy choices. Two-thirds are Managers, making healthy choices to enhance daily health, while a further 15 per cent are Investors, focusing on future health.
Shoppers in Malaysia are more diverse: 35 per cent are Managers, 25 per cent are Investors, 13 per cent are Healers, 13 per cent are Strugglers, and 9 per cent are Disciples. Only 5 per cent are Unmotivateds. "Marketers in Malaysia need to speak to a wider variety of motivations, recognising that while almost seven out of ten are making choices proactively, one in four is either a reactive Healers or a Struggler," says Klabacha.
Malaysian shoppers make healthy choices primarily to meet the health needs of their family and to ensure their own future health and are significantly more likely than other shoppers in Asia to make healthy choices to treat or control an existing health problem. Healthy choices are often made to ensure their children's nutritional and growth needs. "There are clearly strong opportunities for fortified and functional foods and beverages for both children and adults in Malaysia," observes Klabacha.
Philippine shoppers are more hedonistic, making the majority of their healthy choices to feel good. They also exercise more than shoppers in most other countries do. Shoppers in both countries consider their diets to be very healthy, yet a majority plan to watch their diets more closely in the future.
Philippine shoppers are more familiar with functional foods than Malaysians with 71 per cent versus 34 per cent having heard a lot or some about functional foods. One in two Malaysian shoppers and three in four Philippine shoppers always or usually choose foods and beverages because they are fortified.
Part of this receptivity to better nutrition may be driven by a relatively high awareness of nutrients and their benefits among Philippine shoppers. Malaysians are less nutritionally savvy, but have a higher interest in learning more about nutrition. They are particularly interested in high-energy foods and omega-3 fatty acids. Both Malaysian and Philippine shoppers are adding fish, oranges and orange juice, and vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and garlic to their nutritional shopping lists.
Malaysians are also including beans and spinach. Liquid and powdered milks are gaining in popularity, particularly in the Philippines. "The growing use of beverages for health reasons and the emphasis on exercise and sports in the Philippines suggest opportunities for energy drinks, fortified juices and bottled waters, and other beverages formulated to enhance sports performance and/or appearance," suggests Klabacha.
Like shoppers in other countries, Malaysian and Philippine shoppers are most concerned about cancer and cardiovascular disease. While tiredness is a chief complaint in both countries, twice as many suffer from it in the Philippines. Stress and arthritis are also major issues in the Philippines, whereas obesity and food allergies come into play in Malaysia.
India: Wellness Rules
Among all the shoppers surveyed worldwide by HealthFocus International in 2003, Indian shoppers are the most health-active with 99 per cent choosing foods and beverages for health reasons at least sometimes. Almost nine out of ten Indian shoppers always or usually do so and seven out of ten Indian shoppers maintain vegetarian diets and heart-healthy diets.
More than 50 per cent of Indian shoppers are Managers and another 21 per cent are Investors. Like China, there are many Disciples — 15 per cent in this case. "Indian shoppers make healthy choices for very proactive reasons. Speak to the wellness and prevention benefits of healthy choices more than the curative or restorative benefits," says Klabacha.
The connection between food choices and health is very important to Indian shoppers and they consider their mostly natural-foods diets to be very healthy. They place a high priority on freshness, purity, natural ingredients and minimal processing but are still open to the idea of fortification with two-thirds showing an interest in functional foods. More than half are willing to pay extra for them.
Indian awareness of the benefits of many nutrients is low, but shoppers are interested in learning more about foods that enhance health, foods that reduce risk of disease, vegetarian eating, and high-energy foods.
Crossing The Cultural Divide
Cross-cultural marketing of functional foods and beverages poses many challenges and many opportunities. In some cases it is best to market to the common denominator. In others, identifying market differences and capitalising on them is the preferred course of action. As this latest research demonstrates, the link between diet and health in the consumer's mind is now a worldwide phenomenon and the opportunities for manufacturers to enter the global marketplace have never been greater.
Additional reporting by Shane Starling