Australia’s nutritional ‘waist’ land
While it is a societal issue most prevalent among low income earners, it affects us all and the food and beverage industry must take some responsibility. Australians know they should be healthier but struggle to take the steps needed to address the problem.
A TNS study has found that more than 60 per cent of Australians are not satisfied with their physical well being, with 53 per cent more overweight than they would like to be.
Three quarters know that they should eat more healthy foods, however, more than half find it hard to do so.
In addition to this, 61 per cent say their budget impacts what they buy and serve, with purchase habits highly linked to stress.
Their problems are real, but why is it so hard for Aussies to buy, prepare and serve healthy meals when there is a wide choice on the supermarket shelves?
Barriers to healthy choices
It is not that consumers don’t want to be healthier, nor not know what to do, it’s just that many fail to follow through.
Despite high awareness of health risks and how to reduce them, consumers say they are unable to turn their health issues around for three key reasons: the stress of modern Western lifestyles, unattainable body image ideals encouraging them to give up trying, and access to and affordability of unhealthy foods, which make them the default choice.
These barriers actually present clear opportunities to innovate food and beverage options for the large number of Australians who know the risks of their unhealthy lifestyle, but find these barriers prevent them from achieving better health.
The fact that ‘empty calorie’ foods are cheaper is one of the largest issues. When comparing prices of healthy foods and diet patterns versus less healthy ones, the Harvard School of Public Health identified: “The healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets… [and] healthier diet patterns—for example, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts—cost significantly more than unhealthy diets (for example, those rich in processed foods, meats, and refined grains)”.
While this is a US-based study, the same trend can be observed in Australia.
Fresh produce takes more time to prepare and spoils more quickly, driving up costs, while processed foods high in sugar, preservatives, and saturated fats tend to be cheaper, making them the default choice for cash strapped families. These lower cost foods provide more calories, meaning we consume more calories than we need.
Let’s take an extreme example – a single serve tub of plain Greek yoghurt contains around 43 calories per dollar, whereas the archetypal nutritional yardstick, a typical chocolate bar, contains around 120 calories per dollar.
While chocolate bars appear to deliver better value than the yoghurt, this is not really the case. When we add up all the foods we are more likely to choose to eat each day, they dramatically over deliver in terms of calories that we actually need.
Supporting and motivating Australians
The food industry began to support healthy choices when it put low calorie, low fat, and calorie controlled ready meals on the shelves, and implemented new food labeling rules. But providing options for the majority who can’t will themselves to make healthy choices is the critical next step and the big opportunity.
Fifty eight per cent of Australians want more healthy options that still taste great. Fifty four per cent seek more easy to prepare healthy options in supermarkets, and more than half want these options to be ‘on the go’.
Fifty nine per cent actually want ways to keep meals and snacks interesting. There are real opportunities to support this growing health challenged market by adding health benefits to those platforms that will continue to drive demand.
Rather than simply building from a platform of health, health benefits must become complementary to taste, convenience, and budget – the needs that drive consumer choice over and above health benefits.
Mark Hobart is an executive director at TNS Global, the world’s largest shopper insights agency. He advises clients on growth strategies throughout the innovation process, from identifying early stage growth opportunities through to successful launch.