The consumers in the rich part of the world appear to experience even growing pressure. You may think it has something to do with the conflicts around the world, the pressure of finding work-life balance or climate change. All those things probably hold true... but in addition there is a challenge of a more personal and physical matter.
The mother of a friend described the situation vividly following a recent visit to Thailand. At a popular Scandinavian hotel she witnessed mid-aged Scandinavians in their prime. Their beautiful toned bodies, bulging muscles and tight six-packs were on show by the poolside while watching their young kids having fun. Being of an older generation and with different priorities she was amazed by their healthy and toned bodies. But beyond the surface she also noticed that in their beautiful healthiness, they did not look or seem particularly happy.
This was an insightful observation which I've since thought about it whilst working on the creation of a deep understanding of consumer needs and insights related to health.
What remains as an important consumer health need is of course the long-standing impact of a healthy lifestyle. The feeling of being able to turn-back the clock and live longer. Another reason for embarking on a healthy lifestyle is the impact that good nutrition has on energy levels and on the ability to handle everyday life. And thirdly of course the want to ‘look-good’ and perhaps lose some weight. However, beyond these typically vocalized health needs and reasons emerged a more unarticulated ‘meta’ need. I would claim that this need has the power to change the view on health and the health foods territory as a whole. And perhaps this ‘meta’ need is the one with the strongest impact on the people by the pool in Thailand. This ‘meta’ need is to show your status in society through a healthy looking body. We call it ‘Health is the new status symbol’ and in the terms of Maslow it can be summed-up to ‘self-actualization by looking truly healty’.
I am convinced that this strong desire to demonstrate ‘status through health’ will have a strong impact on the food industry. It probably already has when you witness the strong growth in categories such as health snacks and the many launches of protein yogurt. In the fashion world Marc Jacobs has dropped 15kilos and is now selling his version of a sport on the catwalk. Swedish retail giant H&M has opened up their own sport stores well aware that ‘Health as the new status symbol’ is desired state that sells. It is only a matter of time until retailers give health foods an even larger share of space.
Out goes the envy of the Oligarch flexing his Rolex or the ‘beauty fake’ of Hollywood quick-fixes. In comes a desire and praise of the toned bodies of international sportsmen and sportswomen. Never before have such serious effort, time and money being spent on personal trainers, health foods, running gear, bicycles and health retreats. Health is the new status symbol – and for the food industry this realization will open up many opportunities. But let us try to be a bit more cheerful than the Thailand crowd in our endevours to achieve status through health.