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Health & Wellness Trends: Balancing Science With Consumer Appeal

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Balancing Science Balancing Science

When it comes to health and wellness in the food industry, a challenge we all face is to deliver on quickly changing consumer trends while still ensuring products meet the appropriate regulations and do not deceive consumers.

This is especially daunting because consumer trends change at a much faster pace than science. We might see several health trends cycle in the span of a few years, such as plant-based, fermented foods or ketogenic diets, but it takes much longer to come to a consensus on the state of the science for these trends. The consumer appeal of a trend may well have worn off by the time there’s a scientific consensus on the topic, but claims have to be made on sound science. So how do you balance the two?

As part of Kerry’s nutrition science team, I use the method described in this article to help products strike that balance.

Remember the “Why”

One of the most important aspects of any product development is to remember the consumer need you’re trying to solve. For health and wellness trends, the consumer need is health. This means that for those of us developing products, the bottom line is that we need to make sure these products are truly healthy. Products that make false claims or portray a health benefit without actually delivering one not only risk action from regulatory bodies or being targeted by class-action lawsuits in the short-term, but also erode long-term trust with their consumers.

This means it’s key to keep a health benefit in mind during product development. Not only will this help ensure the product delivers on the true consumer need, but it will also help keep the team focused through ideation of a concept. Currently, some of the most common health benefits in the market are weight management, heart health, immune support and digestive health, but consumers are also seeking benefits for mood, energy and sleep. The benefit you choose will influence the flavors and ingredients you want to use in that product to make that benefit clear to consumers. For this article, I’ll use digestive health benefits as an example.

Create Consumer Appeal

Once you’ve chosen a benefit you want to deliver, the next step is to make sure the product communicates that benefit to consumers in a way they understand. Recent Kerry global research indicates that consumers are very aware of product claims, and seek them out when selecting healthy products. This needs to be considered during concept ideation; it’s important to think about the ingredients you choose for a product that can substantiate the claim you want to make.

Consumer studies like Kerry’s Proactive Health study are essential tools to learn which ingredients consumers associate with specific health benefits. For example, in this study, apple cider vinegar and ginger are two ingredients that consumers associate with digestive health.

Incorporating apple cider vinegar or ginger as flavors or ingredients into a product can create a strong digestive health halo for consumers.

As well, green tea, turmeric, ginseng, cinnamon and other botanicals are ingredients consumers associate with numerous health benefits, so you will commonly see these used to communicate a health halo to consumers in products.

By choosing ingredients consumers associate with a health benefit, manufacturers can build consumer appeal into the concept specifically for the desired benefit. Our work is not done, though. Remember, the most important thing to keep in mind through this process is to deliver a true health benefit to solve the consumer need.

Build In Science-backed Health Benefits

The final step is to make sure the product is truly delivering the benefit we want it to deliver. For many of the ingredients that consumers associate with health benefits, though, there may not be enough science for your nutrition, regulatory or legal teams to feel comfortable making a claim.

For example, fermented food is a rapidly growing category due to the perceived health benefit of these foods. However, many fermented foods have a limited number of human clinical studies done to determine whether they truly have a health benefit. While this doesn’t mean that fermented foods don’t have a health benefit, the food and beverage industry must rely on clinical studies and science, which may not have kept pace with the trend, to make claims and position products for health benefits.

For cases like this, you should build in a scientifically supported ingredient that delivers on the target health benefit of your product. For digestive health, this could be a scientifically substantiated probiotic. In this example, apple cider vinegar and ginger flavors would deliver the consumer appeal for digestive health in a beverage, while a probiotic with sound science would be the ingredient allowing a “supports digestive health” claim.

Other common examples of ingredients used to deliver scientifically supported health benefits include protein, fiber, whole grains, servings of fruits and vegetables, vitamins and minerals, omega-3 fatty acids, probiotics and prebiotics. Two well-researched ingredients created by Kerry and used by product manufacturers to create a wide range of fortified foods, beverages and supplements include:

• GanedenBC30, (Bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086), a natural, hardy probiotic ingredient for digestive health support

• Wellmune, a yeast beta 1,3/1,6 glucan that provides immune support

It can seem daunting to figure out a way to balance consumer appeal with scientific substantiation, but breaking the process down into simple steps that can be used for many types of health-focused product development can make the task more approachable.

To learn more, check out the webinar “Proactive Health: Combining Healthy Halos and Science” on the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute website. NIE

Nathan Pratt has a PhD in Nutrition Science from the University of Illinois and is a Registered Dietitian passionate about making science accessible and relevant. His career has focused on seeking the best ways to communicate nutrition science to help people make meaningful changes. He is currently a Nutrition Scientist with Kerry Taste & Nutrition and is responsible for content development for the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute, scientific communications, nutrition-related innovation and guidance on product development.

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