From Languishing to Flourishing: 5 Health & Wellness Shifts Every Food Marketer Needs to Know
In April 2021, Adam Grant published a piece for the New York Times, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing,” in which he succinctly named the collective emotion of 2021. In response, Dani Blum wrote “The Other Side of Languishing Is Flourishing,” providing a proactive step-by-step approach to move beyond languishing. Other articles emerged with an optimistic and prescriptive effort to find a way to our best selves again.
If you’re a food marketer in 2021, you may be wondering how to leverage the health and wellness insights from the past year as the environment continually changes. If there is a silver lining for marketers, it is the opportunity to name and identify the most prominent health and wellness challenges and changes to consumer values, to prioritize and provide a clear path forward to make way for meaningful conversation, solutions and support.
Understanding and responding to these shifts is critical to providing value in 2021 and beyond. Here are just a few emerging consumer health and wellness values born out of the challenges of the past year, which I predict are here to stay.
1. A Fundamental Shift: Well-Being on a Continuum
With heightened awareness of the challenges around their well-being, from basic hygiene and illness prevention to mental health and stress management, consumers are embracing a broadened definition of well-being. They are finding their physical health inextricably linked to their mental health. Traditional definitions are being challenged and expanding into emotional, spiritual and even metaphysical dimensions (over the past year, Pinterest reported a 105% increase in searches for manifestation techniques and 600% increase in zodiac facts).
Food marketers: add mindset coach and fortune teller to your job description. To reach consumers during this shift, marketers should focus on addressing audience needs through clear-cut functional messaging. But in 2021 and beyond, we will need to take it a step further. Data suggests consumers are more open-minded than ever before when it comes to trying new things to enhance their well-being. As a result, food marketers have new opportunities to play in uncharted wellness territories. In anticipation of this mindset shift, Pinterest put it best: “Get your manifestation journals ready. As Pinners get in touch with their magical side, alternative spiritual methods will enter the mainstream. So grab a protection crystal, check your horoscope and build a fantasy map for 2021 – the modern mystics have arrived.”
2. Food as Medicine: Functional Foods Top of Mind in 2021
Consumer interest in functional foods to boost immunity, alleviate anxiety and decrease inflammation, among others, hit an all-time high during the pandemic. According to Simon Gunzburg, Food and Nutrition researcher for Euromonitor, as we enter a quasi-post-pandemic world, consumers are “paying even more attention to the foods they purchase.” Gunzburg continues, “The idea that diet was integral to overall health was already growing…but the pandemic has amplified that notion even further.” According to the Hartman Group, more than 50% of the U.S. population consumes functional foods or beverages, with most non-users signaling they are open to these products. The Functional Food & Beverage and Supplements 2020 Report found 1 in 3 American adults have increased their functional and natural foods consumption. Amid the global health crisis, ReportLinker estimates the global market for health and wellness foods at $764 billion, with a projected growth to $1 trillion by 2027.
“Let Food Be Thy Medicine…” – Hippocrates. What’s important for food marketers is to deeply understand consumer health concerns and how they may have shifted over the past year. Align with consumer health goals and educate them on the functional benefits your product provides. Additionally, look for opportunities to position your product alongside trending functional ingredients like chaga and reishi mushrooms, ashwagandha, maca, holy basil and more, as you make your plans for recipe and product development.
3. Mental Health Dominates the Well-Being Conversation
With everything consumers went through over the past year, one thing’s for sure – in 2021 we turned up the volume on the conversation around mental health. “We were already in a growing mental health crisis before the pandemic,” said Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post and founder and CEO of Thrive Global, whose mission is to end the stress and burnout epidemic. She continues, “The past year has shown us the value of mental resilience and necessity of ending the stigma around mental health.”
In 2020, Lululemon commissioned its first-ever Global Wellbeing Report. Not surprisingly, the study found that only 1 in 5 people reported doing well on what was found to be the top five drivers of overall well-being: good physical health, the ability to manage stress effectively, enough energy to accomplish everything they need to in a day, positive feelings of self-confidence and good work-life balance. The study found that the top 20% of people who reported doing well had proactively focused on simple activities to support overall well-being like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, connecting with people they care about, being physically active and spending time outdoors. They also found that making strides in just one of these areas positively affected overall well-being, including mental health and optimism about the future.
You don’t have to have a PhD to get in on the mental health conversation. If you’re not sure how to begin, aim to understand the nuances of who you are trying to reach. For instance, Gen Z reported struggling with mental health more than other generations, coupled with a deep openness to speak about it. Second, keep it simple. Instead of getting too deep on specific mental health topics, try leveraging specific drivers of overall well-being. Help consumers with simple ways to make healthier food choices, or provide them with new ideas for connecting with loved ones, for example. Expand the conversation from inside the kitchen by helping them balance other areas of their lives that have the most potential to enhance their mental well-being.
4. Diet Culture Overhaul: Finding the Middle Ground on Weight Management
According to Healthline, 61% of Americans reported unwanted weight fluctuations during the pandemic. Stress, lack of exercise, unhealthy changes in eating habits and increased alcohol consumption were all contributing factors. The collective experience seemed to resemble that of a swinging pendulum. By July 2020, more than three-quarters of Americans had gained up to 16 pounds. By fall 2020, 63% of Americans began to prioritize weight loss to counteract the dietary choices they made earlier in the year (hello banana bread and sourdough starter belly!), seeking out specific diets and meal-prepping strategies to help.
In 2021, as conditions normalize, consumers are taking a more realistic approach, looking less to dietary extremes and more to finding the middle ground. They’re not striving for perfection – they just want to make better choices. According to Healthline, we saw a 156% year-over-year increase in search interest around flexitarian meal plans toward the end of 2020. And with growing interest in how and where food is grown, along with reducing carbon footprint, consumers are embracing eating more plants through a plant-forward diet.
Simply put, consumers are looking for sustainable weight-management solutions and aren’t looking for fad diets or quick fixes. As we progress through 2021, consumers will be less willing to commit to extreme diets. Instead, we’ll see them prioritize health and gravitate toward ways of eating that allow more flexibility.
Fad and crash diets are “out”; doing your best is “in.” This year, incorporate more self-care positive messaging. In 2021, food marketers should champion a sustainable approach to weight management by driving home the realistic, simple ways the product enhances consumers’ lives. Help them feel prepared to face ongoing and new challenges with nutrition and time, with easy hacks and meal-prepping pointers. For this group, it’s all about finding balance.
5. Hybrid and Snackable Fitness Is “Wear” It’s At
With 2020 gym closures, at-home workout equipment – everything from dumbbells to resistance bands to high-ticket items like Peloton bikes and Lululemon’s MIRROR – were all the rage. To supplement the at-home experience, we saw a 67% increase in fitness app downloads last year.
While some may say the in-person experience of a good spin or yoga class at the gym or studio can never be replaced, in 2020 consumers learned at-home fitness could be a fun and efficient way to get a workout in. According to the Healthline Fitness Forecast, 9 in 10 physically active Americans say they will continue with at-home workouts even after they feel comfortable returning to a gym. For the time-starved consumer, the days of traveling to the gym or being beholden to studio hours are over.
The year 2020 also saw a 30% growth in global wearable device sales year-over-year. In 2020 wearables shifted from “nice-to-haves” to “must-haves”, thanks to emerging devices that make it easy to track all sorts of metrics. In 2021, we’re seeing the masses rely on these analytics “to inform even the simplest, everyday decisions and lifestyle choices”.
Connecting with consumer health and fitness enthusiast segments is easier than ever. Round out your messaging to include the many ways your brand can elevate the fitness experiences that people are looking for. Leverage product partnerships with fitness apps and micro-influencers. As consumers rely on data from wearable devices, find creative ways to explore and lean into results-driven platforms and messaging around simple and nutritious meals and snack ideas that will resonate with these solution-seekers. Create moments that bridge workout and play time. Even the smallest moment will go a long way and leave a lasting, positive impact on overall well-being.
Choose Your Own Well-Being Adventure
Think outside the box when it comes to well-being, and invite consumers to choose their own adventure. Help audiences cross over into truly flourishing this year by helping them make simple improvements to their lives and well-being. They aren’t looking for perfection, but provide them with encouragement to do the best they can. Connect with health enthusiasts in new ways and lean into data-driven platforms. And leverage the authority and persuasiveness of health influencers through digital fitness apps and social media to meet this group where they are in an authentic way.