Picture the scene. I was sitting back at my desk, mug of coffee on my right, cheeky hobnob on my left and I began to read some new research from The Village Bakery claiming that eating unhealthy snacks at your desk could cause you to put on almost half-a-stone a year. Apparently, the average woman puts on 6lb 3oz – the equivalent of a whole dress size – while men see their weight increase by 5lb 2oz.
Needless to say, I put the hobnob back in the pack. Biscuits, apparently, are our most common vice, closely followed by chocolate, crisps and cakes. A third of us tuck in as a way of coping with stress and nearly a quarter look for a sugar rush to get us through the afternoon.
Now this contrasts (or perhaps partly explains) the explosion in the specialist diet product market in the UK. More of us than ever, it seems, are turning to specialist slimming foods to lose weight as sales of diet shake mixes, food bars and meal replacements have risen by up to a third in the past two years. Brands such as Weight Watchers, Complan and Slim Fast have gone from being niche to mainstream in relatively rapid time. Indeed, it has been reported that Slim Fast products have seen sales increase by 32 per cent across the leading supermarkets over the last two years, with sales of these products likely to continue to grow as adults see them as an easier option to help them lose weight.
The possibility here, therefore, is that the niche becomes the mainstream and begins to seriously impact on the brands which presently make up our weekly shopping basket. However, from developments over the last couple of years, it seems apparent that brands are recognising not only our need to eat more healthily but also that there are potentially rich commercial pickings available to them by encouraging us to do so. You need only look at products like McVities Digestives Light biscuits (30% reduced fat), Baxters’ Healthy range of tinned soups and reduced sugar/reduced salt baked beans to see the direction the market is taking. Couple this with the drive by the multiples to offer healthier own brand products, as well as vast amounts of online information and recipes on healthy cooking and eating, and it’s clear to see where the battleground is.
Fundamental to this, however, is an understanding of what is going through the consumer’s mind, motivating them in how they eat and drink and, it would seem, how they assuage any feelings of guilt from having indulged a little more than they strictly would have wanted to.
Research here is fundamental. Detailed work with a panel of consumers can really help brands drill down and fully understand what motivates, what concerns and ultimately what influences their purchasing decisions as it pertains to healthy eating. We ask consumers to keep a weekly diary before we meet them to illustrate their thoughts and feelings towards food and drink; we look at their shopping receipts to see what they actually buy, when and where and why; we look at their purchases in the context of their lifestyle and their priorities, and we even look through their cupboards to explore their relationship with their chosen brands. The level of insight that this kind of ethnographic research can deliver to a brand can be critical in creating understanding of consumer motivations and can make a profound contribution to both product development and marketing strategies.
And, in case you were wondering, I put the hobnob back and had an apple.