Monthly Archives: December 2012

The Obesity Epidemic and Snacking: Aligning Intentions with Actions

As a company that manufacture’s vitamin and mineral premixes, the health of the average American is foremost on our minds. What are the vitamins and minerals that American’s need the most? Are there deficiencies we should be aware of? In short, are we producing the right, high quality products that Americans depend upon day in and day out?

As a country, it is hard to ignore the health epidemic that is slowly but surely consuming our nation: obesity. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) program, the prevalence of obesity has gone from 23% in 1988 to 68% of the population being categorized as overweight or obese in 2008. That comes out to a staggering 45% increase in just twenty years (Check out the CDC graphic here).

What makes the epidemic so deadly, according to Mintel, is that being overweight has become the new norm. While the NHANES study found that 68% of the American population was overweight and obese, a survey conducted by Mintel around that same time found that 52% described themselves as normal weight, with only 44% describing themselves as overweight. A complementary study conducted by the Columbia University Medical Center had similar findings, according to an article in USA Today. In the study, 66% of mothers were found to be overweight or obese, however, only 18% of obese women and 57.5% of overweight women were able to accurately estimate their weight when looking at figure silhouettes.

And unfortunately it is not just adults. According to the NHANES study, 17% of children between the ages of 2-19 are obese, and according to the USA Today article, 47.5% of moms of overweight or obese children “thought their kids were at a healthy weight”. This is a very serious issue, because according to the New England Journal of Medicine, being obese at a young age can result in “life-threatening consequences in the future”.

The reason I bring this up is not to be a Debbie Downer, but to demonstrate a point. Although it is a proven fact that more people are overweight and obese today then they were in the past, if they do not recognize that they are overweight, and that their current diet is unhealthy, they will not feel the need to make changes. The challenge for food marketers is to align consumer intentions with actions. According to Mintel, one of the greatest opportunities in the industry is to develop snacks that foster alignment between wanting to be healthy and eating healthy, and to communicate the health benefits of their snacks. However in doing so, the health claims must be common sense associative (ex. Calcium in milk) and the snacks must actually taste good. Lets be honest, no one is going to give up their low-fat baked potato chips for something that tastes like cardboard.

The key to creating alignment between consumer perceptions and purchasing habits is information. Educating the population about basic nutrition and healthy eating habits will not only help to improve the health of the general population overall, but will help to nurture demand for healthy snacks as well, spurring innovation and sales in that market. Already we have seen some headway made. In response to childhood obesity statistics, media, government and medical communities have begun to focus on healthy snack innovation targeting kids.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, the Food Trade Commission (FTC) found that foods being marketed to children in 2011 contained less sugar and more whole grains then they had in 2006. FTC Chairman Jon Leibowtiz was quoted saying, “ The encouraging news is that we’re seeing promising signs that food companies are reformulating their products and marketing more nutritious foods to kids, especially among companies participating in industry self-regulatory efforts. But there is still room for improvement”. While parents are responsible for the end purchasing decision, marketing is still a powerful tool when it comes to influencing children’s’ perceptions and creating habits. By educating children on the importance of a healthy diet and how tasty healthy foods are, food companies can hopefully expand the current dialogue to help inspire healthy habits in their young target audience.

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How Snacks Can Help or Hurt Your New Year’s Resolution

As we approach the New Year, many of us are thinking about our New Year’s resolutions. For many, this includes losing weight and developing healthier habits. In fact, if this year is anything like last year, according to a Wall Street Journal article, 42% of people list losing weight as one of their top resolutions. Unfortunately, losing weight also ranked as one of the top “unachieved resolutions” in the same study.

According to a 2008 study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey group, the type of snack you eat can greatly affect the success of your diet. The study found that although the number of snacks consumed by the average person per day has doubled in the past 30 years, the number of snacks consumed in a day did not differ significantly by weight across the surveyed population, suggesting that the type of snack heavily determines the success of a diet.

In 2011 Mintel conducted their own study, which found that the average person consumes 2.6 snacks a day, 78% of which were considered healthy. While the study had respondents self classify “healthy snack” (and as discussed in the last post that the definition of “healthy” is highly contextual and subjective), it does show that the importance of healthy snacking is getting through to consumers and many engage in strategic snacking to try and manage their weight. In their study, Mintel found that healthy snacking tendencies varied by age and gender. While women were overall more likely to report eating healthy snacks, healthy snacking was found to be lower among 18-34 year olds and families with young children.

Mintel found that families with small children tend to eat more snacks then average, roughly 2.7 snacks per day since children tend to have faster metabolism then adults. For families, the biggest hurdle to healthy snacking is finding a snack that is not only nutritious, comes in kid-friendly portions and is portable, but most importantly is something kids actually like/want to eat. As mentioned in the last post, many families with children will sacrifice the “health acceptance level” of a snack and settle for a marginally healthy snack, such as a whole-wheat cracker, in order to gain taste and portability.

Consumers who are between the ages of 18-34 were also found to consume the less healthy snacks, consuming 6% less healthy snacks then average consumer. According to Mintel, this is due in part to the cultural trend of “on the go snacking”, where quick snacks take the place of meals. This is especially troublesome for those wishing to lose weight, as skipping meals have been shown to slow metabolism and lead to binge snacking. Mintel found that higher snacking frequency is associated with higher total calorie intake, about 1.5 times as many calories as adults who do not snack.

So while healthy snaking can help you achieve your weight management goals, unhealthy snacking can spell the death of your diet. According to Alexander Chernev, an associated professor of marketing at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and author of the New Year resolution study, “When making our resolutions, we think ‘big picture’ and focus on the long-term. Then life takes over. When given the choice between the immediate gratification of indulging now and the future gratification of losing weight, people tend to by myopic and favor the short term”. Since on-the-go snacking trend remains strong, it is up to food companies to create products that not only fit into consumer’s busy lifestyles, but also are nutritious.

While the majority of snackers consume healthy snacks, consumers also desire an indulgent snack during the day. Mintel suggests that food companies create healthy snacks that include indulgent flavors, such a chocolate, so that consumers can treat themselves in a way that does not ruin their diet. In addition, food companies should look into creating more filling, meal-replacement options that are easy to grab-and-go that will help consumers feel full longer. This will help consumers resist the urge to binge snack, and hopefully enable them to attain their goals for the New Year.

Health Is In the Eye of the Eater

Now that the holiday season has come to an end, and all the holiday cakes, cookies and chocolates have been enjoyed, the season of cheer is over and the season of responsible eating has begun. Gone are those glorious days when the single oatmeal chocolate shot cookie you grabbed while running out the door can be considered a “reasonable” snack by virtue it being made of oatmeal and that you only grabbed one.

Looking back, its rather interesting how context can affect your view of a healthy snack. While there is that 9% who view cookies as a healthy snack all year round, unfortunately for the rest of us, we know that fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts are what constitute as healthy snacks. Not surprisingly, these three groups are part of the six groups highlighted by the USDA’s food pyramid. However, these are the items that also tend to be less portable then other snacks. While the majority know what constitutes as a healthy snack, portability is a major deciding factor which leads to “snack compromise”, or a lowering of the “health acceptance” bar, as seen in the oatmeal cookie situation.

According to Mintel, in addition to the three food groups listed above, the top fifteen snacks include yogurt, dried fruit, trail mix, cheese, popcorn, rice cakes, frozen yogurt, cereal, snack bars, fruit snacks, pretzels and crackers. While crackers and cereal are viewed as more processed, and thus less healthful then whole food snacks such as fruits and vegetables, their portability makes them more popular snacks then the healthier, whole food choices, especially when compared to other portable snack options such as chips.

This can be most clearly seen when it comes to parents purchasing snacks for kids. According to Mintel, parents tend to have a skewed perception of what constitutes as a healthy snack due to the fact that they are looking for a snack that is not only nutritious but is also something their kids will eat. As many parents can attest, animal crackers and graham crackers are popular snack choices for young kids, but are mostly considered healthy due to their preferred flavor profile, small serving size and portability, rather then their intrinsic health benefits. Sound familiar?

In the end, the perception of health is dependent on what each consumer views as important health benefits and how those benefits are weighed against portability. According to Mintel, companies should make snacks that are not only portable, but that include vitamins and minerals so that they can make legitimate nutritional health claims. In this way consumers can purchase snacks that not only have the benefits they want but also have the portability they need.