Markets strengthen as Indians go the health way

Posted by Josette Dunn on 7th May 2010

The belief ‘An apple a day keeps your doctor away’ seems passé as Indians now seem to be eating a lot more than just apples to stay healthy!

A recent consumer insight report published by Datamonitor states that the health and wellness wave is going to be a forerunner in shaping the Indian FMCG industry in the years to come. According to Datamonitor estimates, in 2009, the packaged food and beverages market in India was worth approximately $21.6bn, of which, health and wellness foods accounted for $725m. This industry has been registering a solid annual growth rate of more than 25% for the past five years clearly highlighting the optimism amongst the consumers and the prospects of its manufacturers.

The report shows that Indians have become increasingly aware of their health concerns and are proactively taking measures to deal with it.

“A need to stay healthy amidst a hectic lifestyle is driving Indians to take more interest in information related to health and wellness, engage in exercise routines and improve the quality of their dietary intake” says Rahul Ashok, Datamonitor’s Consultant – Consumer Markets.

Since Indians traditionally attach a lot of importance to ‘healthy eating and healthy living’, health food options are seen by many as a route to preventive healthcare and this has begun to command a larger share of the consumers’ wallet. “Over the last decade, the demand for health foods in India has been fuelled by the increasing incidence of lifestyle-related diseases, economic uncertainty and the awareness created through the media. This demand has now gathered enough steam to create a sustained impact on the consumers’ desire to eat healthy,” says Rahul Ashok, based in India.

Health consciousness has had an impact on Indian diet in two ways. Firstly, Indians have realized the importance of maintaining a healthy dietary habit of eating as much fresh food as possible and try to avoid potentially harmful fast/junk food. The perils associated with the consumption of junk food on a regular basis are now better understood by most Indians. A recent consumer survey conducted by Datamonitor reveals that the effort to eat healthily was linked to eating as fresh as possible. Indeed, 62% of Indians consumers stated that freshness related claims even on processed food and beverages had a significant impact on their product choices.

Secondly, Indians are increasingly trying to ensure that their dietary intake is sufficient to meet their daily nutritional requirements. As a result of the massive transformation in the lifestyle of an average Indian, their health priorities have transformed as well. These days, eating healthily is not only associated with maintaining a disease-free body, but also ensuring desired levels of energy/stamina, cognitive alertness, and physical appearance in terms of body weight and shape.

In the Datamonitor survey, 70% of the consumers have indicated that they make a conscious attempt to eat healthily on a regular basis. Furthermore, the survey highlights that Indian men and women display similar interest levels in improving their general health and well-being. However, women more actively buy and consume food and beverages with a health positioning. “The new generation of Indian women is making conscious efforts to read about health and wellness trends and to make evaluated purchase decisions based on their families’ health needs” adds Rahul.

Over the years, manufacturers in India have constantly made an attempt to position some of their offerings on a health platform. The manufacturers initially toyed with the concept of health and wellness to differentiate their offerings from that of the competitors in a growing market. However, as more and more companies join the health and wellness bandwagon, the point of product differentiation is fast blurring. To satiate the informed demands of today’s critical and discerning consumers, manufacturers have to continuously innovate by bringing in ingredients-linked claims, which are relevant and authentic.

Currently, the Indian market has product offerings with a mix of ‘good for you’ and ‘better for you’ positioning. ‘Good for you’ products are those which are fortified with ingredients that aid healthy living and ‘Better for you’ includes products where certain ingredients perceived as unhealthy are removed or reduced in the formulation. Through the Datamonitor survey it was found that, Indians are increasingly using the nutritional information on product packaging to understand such ingredient modification and potential health benefits, before making a product choice. “At this juncture, companies would have to focus on creating descriptive package-literature/graphics linked to nutritional information and health claims, as this is going to play the most significant role in consumer’s purchase decisions” predicts Rahul Ashok.

Since the health and wellness wave offers a potential for differentiated positioning and even helps in commanding a price premium as of now, many manufacturers often use unsubstantiated claims in their marketing campaigns or product labelling to gain an unfair advantage. The flooding of markets with products making such false claims has led many Indian consumers in the last few years to displayed dissonance even over the legitimate health claims. “Lack of stringent regulations regarding advertising and marketing of FMCG products have held back the market from growing to its full potential. Therefore, it is imperative for the manufacturers to seek ways to add credibility to their health claims in order to reduce the consumer skepticism in future,” concludes Rahul.

Analysing prospects, Datamonitor predicts that there is a tremendous opportunity for the food and beverage manufacturers to drive growth by offering ingredient modifications and packaging innovations to cater to this emerging set of health concerns and consumption patterns. While doing so, it is also going to become important for the companies to focus on creating sustainable and ethical processes for product development and marketing in order to profit from the opportunities in the Indian health and wellness sector.