It is a well-established fact that more Britons are taking a conscious approach to their food and drink choices. Forget the fact that January is the time to take healthy habits, moderation, and plant-based vows—even after these makeshift crackdowns, the craving for food that nourishes mind, soul, and body, as well as the planet, is picking up pace with consumers.
Health and Wellness has been described by NielsenIQ as the strongest consumer force, with 48% of global consumers saying they make proactive health and wellness choices on a regular basis. But what do these abstract desires look like while working in the weekly shop? “Think about soft drinks that contain probiotics, and fizzy drinks with added prebiotics and ingredients that highlight sustainability and go back to the environment,” says Jade Hoai, Director of Purchasing and Operations at Whole Foods Market. Products with words like “prebiotic” on their label have traditionally not been the domain of luxury food stores, and can be intimidating for store owners who aren’t health experts but find their customers increasingly looking for food and drink that they can enable to live a healthier life.
Fortunately, there is a growing group of brands blending sustainable credentials, health-promoting ingredients and premium flavors to create products at the intersection of the luxury food sector and the health and wellness movement. Jade says Whole Foods has seen these market changes develop. “We have certainly seen an increase in the demand for healthier foods with better ingredients, which is evidenced by the findings in the 2022 Trends report. Some of the products that fall into this category are Aduna Cleanse Tea made with mint and nettle, and Gimber Ginger, a soft drink Alcohol-free, organic made with ginger, lemon, and herbs, and Osius Bone Broth, an organic bone broth made with turmeric.”
While these products have strong health leanings, they also use high-quality ingredients that have superfood status, as well as premium packaging and a solid sense of provenance. These are the principles that both the good food and healthy food sectors believe in, says Bethan Wallace Higgson, founder of the Switchel Mother Root brand. “We understand that food and ingredients that are sourced, slow growing, or products made with few ingredients are not only tastier, but better for us as well.”
While more and more products tick the boxes for both health and flavor, sometimes all it takes to transform an item on your shelf from a deli to healthy food is smart product placement and storytelling. “The pursuit of wellness has become a powerful driver for shoppers looking for food to boost both mental and physical health. And what we’re seeing is that this isn’t just about ‘healthy foods’ or powders and supplements,” says Becky Fall of Traclements artisanal spices.
“Our ancestors knew a thing or two about the medicinal properties of certain foods: Enter whole-grain mustard!” Becky explains that whole-grain mustard has historically been used as a holistic remedy, from wound healing to treating colds. In order to understand these benefits, Tracklements teamed up with Cardiff Metropolitan University to conduct a trial that demonstrated that eating 1 teaspoon of whole-grain mustard daily can help achieve healthy levels of glucose and cholesterol in the blood. “This humble hero of the living room and table not only makes food taste great, it also makes you good. So now there is another reason to love those jars of mustard on your shelves!”
Retailers can make the most of traditional products with all-natural formulas or powerful ingredients with in-store signage and storytelling. These attract customers who prefer getting their health benefits the old-fashioned way. As Becky asks, “What could be better than discovering your favorite meal or spice that you really like?” Be a soundboard for clients and an inspiration as well. “As shoppers look to increase the health of their diet, they will likely turn to their trusted specialty retailer for help with inspiration. Offering pairing suggestions provides some needed inspiration and a new and different way to use old favorites to bring new ingredients to life,” says Becky.
“We’re beginning to connect the dots that what we put into our bodies (more than what we take out) has a powerful impact on how we feel, both physically and mentally,” Bethan adds. “Products that have functional advantages can be particularly attractive because they offer the customer an additional sense of satisfaction factor. But that is provided that they also fulfill their taste as this is still the first consideration.” But don’t refer it to the “health food” section in a dark corner of the store — instead, retailers have to put these products all over the store. “Keep your values on taste, but make sure you put on the shelf fun foods and drinks that identify some of the key functional and health benefits that people care about the most today.” These include gut health, moderation in alcohol intake, and healthy sources of protein and fiber, Bethan says.
Another area of the health and wellness movement that could be a major source of income for retailers is vegan food and drink. The sector is full of innovation and excitement as producers strive to develop the best alternatives to meat as well as independent champion vegetarian products. Research by Atura Proteins reveals that 56% of food and beverage brand owners and manufacturers are likely to invest their new product development budget in plant-based products in 2022, which means more innovation is on the way.
January is the time of year when the spotlight is turned to vegan innovation, thanks to a vegan industry campaign. According to Tony Fernelli, International Head of Communications and Marketing, more than 582,000 people from 209 countries and territories participated in the Botanical Fair last year, and this year it is set to be even bigger. “It’s becoming more and more common, with people from all demographics and businesses from every sector participating,” Tony says. Jade agrees that Veganuary has become an important event for retailers like Whole Foods. “We stock over 5,000 vegan products, and only in the last year have we seen an increase in vegan listings. With more people participating in vegan every year, we’ve found that consumers are looking for alternative food offerings that are not only unique and trend-oriented but that don’t require much effort from them. In time and money.”
Indeed, while innovation is a large part of the plant-based sector, in the same way that good food products are often “accidentally healthy”, so can they be “vegan by chance”. “Most people have assumptions about which foods are likely to be vegan and which aren’t, so they may skip something convenient and tasty because they never thought it could be vegan. This is where the signage from the retailer is so important — both on the shelf, in the window, or on the signs outside the store,” says Tony. “During January it’s a great idea to display all your vegan products in one area, so it’s easy for those looking for intentionally vegan goods to find them. The rest of the year it’s best to keep vegan products with similar but obviously vegan products.” This way non-vegetarian customers will still be discovered and vegans will easily know the products are right for them too,” continues Tony.
While vegan is a huge event, with resilience tied to a major trend for 2022, there is good reason to invest in vegan year-round. And beware investing only in meat-like alternatives – digging deeper into the vegan sector reveals plant-based products that are easy to cook, too. “Shoppers are looking to reduce meat intake and opt for easy-to-cook, convenient plant-based alternatives that can help them make a difference,” explains Ann-Marie Cannon, Senior Brand Manager, Cooks & Co at RH Amar. “Our Chefs and Partners Banana Blossom, which is up 237% over the past three months, is a great alternative to fish, and an easy swap for fish and chips.”
Vegetarian and healthy food products no longer fit into the luxury food segment. “As more and more brands embrace messages that focus on health, wellness and NPD, we will find that this has become the norm across a number of categories,” says Max Spiegelberg, director of marketing for the Greenypeeps sustainable tea brand. “Soon we may see health and wellness abbreviated icons as an alternative form of nutritional or calorie labeling appearing on packaging to guide consumers in their purchasing decisions. New wellness subcategories will appear all over supermarket aisles. It is already happening in snacks, prepared meals and beverages. Hot, cold, smoothies. Will it be long before we see widespread proposals for health and wellness and messages across other categories such as soups, dairy, and even desserts?” he asked. Health, wellness and plant-based eating will undoubtedly become part of the “new normal” for the quality food industry. Is your store ready?