FEATURE7 July 2014

A picture of health


Research from Trinity McQueen points to national differences in attitudes to health and diet.

Under pressure to react, many food brands are putting health at the centre of their strategies. But what do consumers think? Are they convinced by the marketing strategies?

Research from Trinity McQueen has investigated what ‘being healthy’ means to consumers and where brands sit within that environment. The study involved more than 6,000 interviews among UK, German and French consumers in May and June of this year.

A consequence of this food marketing landscape is that consumers feel overwhelmed by the abundance of food and drink products pushing health messages. They see brands as being less distinctive in their health and wellbeing claims, which means for the brands, it is more difficult to stand out.

Brand cynicism

Consumers are wary of brands and often don’t believe they have their best interests at heart. There are differences among nationalities here: German consumers are less likely to trust medical professionals than the UK and France but more likely to trust health organisations, universities and friends and family.

The research found that four out of five consumers agree that ‘brands claim to be healthy but are not in reality’. Consumers cited low fat products which are in reality full of sugar as an example of how they are hoodwinked by seemingly healthy packaging and positioning. 

National variations in health perception

Brits are less likely to describe themselves as healthy than elsewhere in Europe. Thirty per cent of UK respondents said they were healthy compared with 43% in France and 46% in Germany.

A significantly higher percentage of younger consumers rate themselves as healthy compared with other age groups. Almost half ( 48%) of 16-29 year olds consider themselves healthy in Europe, compared with 40% for 30-49 year olds and only 30% of over 50s.

Trinity McQueen’s research found that qualitatively health concerns are triggered by life stage events including having children and experiencing ailments and disease.  However younger consumers were more conscious of the ‘mental’ aspects of health and cited campaigns such as the recent one by mental health charity, MIND, and new movements such as ‘mindfulness’ as reasons for this greater awareness. 

Despite – or perhaps because of – rising obesity levels in the UK, we are a nation of dieters prone to follow fads and quick fixes rather than a balanced, stable approach. Twice as many UK consumers diet on a regular basis compared with Germany and France; while only a third of UK consumers claim to never diet compared with more than half of German consumers.

When it comes to adopting strategies to be healthier (whether genuine or just claimed) cutting down on fat and sugar are the main priorities for UK citizens. French consumers claim they are generally less likely to change their eating habits, but show evidence of trying to eat more fruit and veg. 

What does this mean for brands?

More than half of consumers ( 56%) think brands hold some responsibility in supporting their health and wellbeing.

For food brand marketers there is a clear need to be honest to gain consumers’ trust. As with so many aspects of marketing, there is a need for transparency and for brands to show they are taking health seriously.

Laura Morris, director at Trinity McQueen says: “To build trust, brands must demonstrate clearly where they stand on the spectrum of ‘healthy’, be transparent in their product and marketing claims and prioritise leveraging the FEEL (i.e. emotional) aspects of health, especially when it comes to UK consumers. Doing nothing is not an option.”