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How to lead the epochal healthy food opportunity

How to lead the epochal healthy food opportunity

Sales of functional food, products that reduce disease risks and/or contribute to healthiness, are expected to be worth $30 billion by 2014* and continue to generate most of the growth of the total food sector. 

We are in the middle of a profound change in how we look at food and beverage products. More often product choices are taken by first evaluating the implications that the product can have on our short or long term well-being. A lot of information is available about what is good for our health and what isn’t. The growing awareness that food is a key element of a healthy life style makes the consumer particularly sensible to the new offers in the area of health conscious food.

Functional food with health promises is strongly growing

Sales of the so called “ functional food” (food that goes beyond the basic necessities to provide additional health benefits that may reduce disease risk and/or promote optimal health) are expected to be worth $30 billion by 2014* and continue to generate most of the growth of the total food sector.

But this is where things get complicated. The speed at which new products launches come to market with new and louder health promises has far exceeded the speed at which consumers can understand, appropriate and then integrate the new promises in their buying decision process. 

How to be credible in health care promises of brands?

What slows everything down is the lack of a key element in the consumer’s decision process: Trust. Without trust in the company that promotes a new health benefit, consumers need to search for confirmation of the credibility of the promise from other trusted sources: friends, peers, family, authorities or trusted media. This confirmation is difficult and slow to build up and consequently manufactures get a lower than expected return on the investments and face numerous failures.

Why do large food companies have so many problems in being credible when associating health promises to their brands?  The answer is that to be credible about what you promise you have to have a consistent behaviour; consumers need to trust that you will be faithful to your promise under any circumstances.

Large diversified Multinationals like Danone have tried to keep health promoting product such as “Activia” as well their broad offer of unhealthy calories-loaded chocolate desserts under the same umbrella brand. The result is that they have problems in convincing health-conscious consumers about their absolute and unbendable will to produce credible and trustable healthy products.

The creation of new trusted brands is needed; brands that get their authority from the establishment of a completely independent company, independent from the influences of divergent economic interests coming from the rest of the group and built on a single-minded promise: sell only products that, with no exception, are made to respect a balanced nutrition that sustain a healthy life style. Protecting the independence of this company and its brands from the influences of the holding group’s divergent economic interests is primordial in gaining the consumer trust.

The need of a single-minded approach is crucial for success

Is it possible to be credible in such as an attempt?  Can a large company manage and be credible in such an endeavour? I believe so. Consumers must see and believe that there is a single-minded approach that is more important than everything else for the company. A great example is how a mass-market car group such as Volkswagen (who also owns the low-cost “Skoda” brand) is managing the most exclusive brand in sport cars: Bugatti ( brand re-born from scratch few years ago) that sells the € 1.5 million “Veyron” sport car. In the potential buyers’ mind there isn’t any doubt that Bugatti is pursuing the utmost level of technical perfection in complete autonomy from the high-volume production constraints existing for Volkswagen group. Only such a single-minded dedication to a specific promise justifies the astonishing price tag of these cars.

For the large food corporations the investments required to set up a new company and a new brand might be significant, but so will be the potential rewards! Be the first trusted healthy food company means to be able to reap the incredible opportunities of the biggest and longer-lasting trend in the entire food industry history.

*Source: Leatherhead Food Research  “Future Directions for the Global Functional Foods Market “ 2011.