Growth of ‘healthy’ food sales globally, but not at expense of more indulgent foods, research

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 4th March 2015

health categories chart nielsenHalf of consumers around the world say they are actively trying to lose weight, and 75 per cent of them plan to achieve that goal by changing their diet, according to market research organisation Nielsen. However, sales of both ‘healthy’ and ‘indulgent’ food categories grew between 2012 and 2014.

According to Nielsen’s Global Health and Wellness Survey, which reviewed purchasing trends between 2012 and 2014, ‘healthy’ categories grew 5 per cent, outpacing ‘indulgent’ categories (2 per cent). ‘Semi-healthy’ categories fell 1 per cent.

‘Semi-healthy’ options could benefit from highlighting health benefits

‘Healthy’ categories in the study included dairy-based shakes, fruit, sports drinks, tea, vegetables, water and yogurt. ‘Indulgent’ categories included carbonated soft drinks, chips, chocolate and cookies/biscuits. ‘Semi-healthy’ categories included bread, cheese, cereal, granola bars, juice, popcorn and pretzels.

“The growth of ‘healthy’ options does not automatically come at the expense of ‘indulgent’ offerings,” said Susan Dunn, executive vice president, Global Professional Services at Nielsen. “There is room for both healthy foods and occasional treats in consumers’ diets. So it’s the semi-healthy options that are most affected,” she said.

“To drive growth for these offerings, manufacturers should look for areas where they can improve the nutritional profile of foods and highlight the health benefits their products provide to consumers,” Ms Dunn said.

‘Healthy’ categories growing most in developing regions

Around the world, Nielsen found that ‘healthy’ categories reported the strongest sales growth in developing regions.

Sales grew 20 per cent in Africa/Middle East, 16 per cent in Latin America and 15 per cent in Asia-Pacific. Indulgent categories also grew in developing regions, but at a slower rate than healthy categories (+11 per cent in Africa/Middle East, +7 per cent in Latin America, +5 per cent in Asia-Pacific).

In North America, sales of healthy categories grew 7 per cent over the two-year period, but sales of semi-healthy and indulgent categories declined (-3 per cent and -2 per cent, respectively). The decline in indulgent categories in the region was driven by the decline in carbonated soft drinks, which fell 8 per cent. Conversely, sales of chips and chocolate grew 3 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively, over the same period. Meanwhile, in Europe, only indulgent categories grew, rising 1 per cent, while sales of healthy and semi-healthy categories declined (-2 per cent and -1 per cent, respectively).

‘Healthy’ drinks see strong growth

Nielsen found ‘healthy’ hydration was on the minds and in the shopping baskets of consumers, with sports drinks, water and fruit among the strongest-growing healthy categories.

Sales of sports drinks increased 8 per cent globally, rising in all regions except Europe (-6 per cent), but developing regions primarily drove growth. Over the past two years, sports drinks sales increased 51 per cent in Asia-Pacific, 25 per cent in Africa/Middle East and 10 per cent in Latin America.

Sales of water (+7 per cent globally) also grew in all regions, but growth was particularly strong in developing regions (+23 per cent in Asia-Pacific, +18 per cent in Africa/Middle East and +19 per cent in Latin America).

The power of the package label

According to Nielsen, health claims on package labels were strongest when added to products already considered healthy. Healthy products with packaging callouts tended to outperform the category as a whole.

The effectiveness of label claims for semi-healthy and indulgent categories, however, seemed to depend on consumers’ perceptions of the product. Sales of potato chips with whole-grain labeling, for example, decreased 11 per cent between 2012 and 2014, but sales of potato chips with low or reduced sodium increased 18 per cent. Nielsen suggested that consumers may think of potato chips as a salty snack, so a low-sodium option may be more appealing than whole grain.

Which health attributes are considered most important?

Nielsen found that foods that are ‘all natural’ (43 per cent), made from fruits/vegetables (40 per cent) and ‘organic’ (33 per cent) were among the most favored preferences for global respondents. Sales figures reflected these preferences, as products with “natural” and “organic” claims grew 24 per cent and 28 per cent, respectively, over the two-year period.

Also consistent with the interest in more pure/natural products, sales of artificially sweetened “diet/light” products declined 12 per cent, while products naturally sweetened with Stevia grew 186 per cent.

Sales of products with healthy ingredient claims were also growing across categories. Products with claims about low or reduced sodium and the addition of real fruit both grew 7 per cent over the past two years, while products with reduced or no fat content claims grew 4