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People are increasingly linking diet to health

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Sarah Schmansky

Sarah Schmansky

The self-care movement is playing a key role in reshaping health care in a way that drug store retailers and manufacturers cannot afford to ignore. Recent data from The Conference Board Global Consumer Confidence Survey, in collaboration with Nielsen, shows that 18% of Americans reported health as a top concern, next only to the economy (22%) and immigration (19%). With the threat of rising health care costs, consumers are prioritizing wellness and taking a more active role in managing their own health.

Today’s health-minded consumers are looking beyond medicine to manage their health — and opting for healthier food is a big part of this mindset. Increasingly for drug stores, the way to the consumer’s wallet is through their diet. However, Nielsen’s 2019 Health Care Study showed that only 24% of consumers are satisfied with the health food selection in drug stores, compared to 75% who expressed satisfaction with the health foods sold in traditional grocery stores. Within the drug store market, there is a golden opportunity for growth.

The first step is to understand the diet trends currently at play. How well versed are you in today’s diverse diet landscape? Here is a quick snapshot.

What is America eating — and not eating — in 2019?

As a whole, consumers care about both what’s in and what’s not in their diets. In 2019, consumers are making more room on their plate for fresh fruits, vegetables and wholesome food — driven by diets such as Whole30, keto and vegetarianism, which is currently seeing the second-highest absolute dollar growth of $2.4 billion. While fresh produce sales at the drug store level are limited, manufacturers are making efforts to include more fruit and vegetables in their products in order to appeal to consumers looking to increase their consumption of healthier, better-for-you food and beverages.

That said, small convenience items containing fresh produce are viable and smart options for drug retail. Snackable produce is a trend we called out in 2017, where, at the time, this on-the-go snacking subcategory was a $1.1 billion area with a compound annual growth rate of more than 10% every year between 2012 and 2016 within grocery retail.

In terms of what consumers are cutting back on so far in 2019, diets that are low sugar, low carb and low in sodium are trending — meaning that an increasing number of consumers are cutting out sugar, highly processed carbs and sodium-rich food. Popular diets like the paleo, or caveman, diet require consumption of foods presumed to have been available to humans during the paleolithic era — so basically anything that looks like it came from a factory is off the table.

While cholesterol-friendly diets like Dash and low-glycemic diets are both losing dollar sales and momentum, Nielsen data shows that there has been a notable increase of consumers following keto, microbiotic and paleo-style diets. And of all of diets that have trended this year, the one you should have most on your radar is the keto diet.

What is the keto diet?

The ketogenic diet is a very low-carb, high-fat diet that shares many similarities with the Atkins and low-carb diets. It involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat. This reduction in carbs puts the body into a metabolic state called ketosis. The keto diet typically includes meat, fish, eggs, butter, nuts, healthy oils, avocados and plenty of low-carb veggies. Consumers on the keto diet aim to avoid carb-based foods like grains, sugars, legumes, rice, potatoes, candy, juice and even most fruits. There are several versions of the keto diet. The standard (SKD) version is the most researched and most ­recommended.

Who is the keto shopper?

According to Nielsen data, 46% of consumers who are following the keto diet are living in households with annual incomes over $100,000, and 87% of keto shoppers are Caucasian. The majority of followers (42%) are from smaller households of two members.

With this broad understanding of the diets that are driving consumer food preferences, it is just as important to gain visibility into what food attributes are driving purchase decisions at the shelf.

While many of the top attributes mirror the leading diet trends — low sugar, low fat, high protein and low sodium — Nielsen’s 2019 Health Care Study shows that consumers also value attributes like heart health (58%), natural (51%), free from artificial ingredients (50%) and vitamin/mineral presence (47%).

As mentioned, for drug stores the way to consumers’ wallets is through their diet. There is a need for drug store retailers to reimagine their health food selection and an opportunity to do a better job in addressing the specific needs of today’s dietary needs and trends. Understand the trends. Identify the attributes and ingredients that are driving growth in your business — and recognize that health and wellness is not one-size-fits-all. As consumers take a more proactive interest in their own health and wellness, it will be crucial for drug store players to understand the need across all — inclusive of generations, income, ailments and diets.

Sarah Schmansky is vice president of Nielsen’s Health and Wellness practice.


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