There’s an old adage: You are what you eat. If that’s the case, grocery store shelves should offer an accurate snapshot of the American consumer. Increasingly, that snapshot is developing into a portrait of health.
There’s no escaping the growing emphasis on health and wellness among American adults. Weight management is becoming a yearlong concern rather than a New Year’s resolution. As health care costs skyrocket, consumers are becoming more aware of the role food plays in the prevention of disease. Food manufacturers and retailers are responding by creating healthier products and packaging those products so that the health benefits are in the forefront of consumers’ minds.
The rise in healthy products is staggering. Packaged Facts estimates that the market for functional foods—edible products that include components that promote health and help prevent disease—will reach $6.65 billion by 2007. According to the National Marketing Institute’s Health and Wellness Trends Database 2003, more than half of Americans use functional foods. Companies ranging from General Mills to PepsiCo to Kraft are creating products specifically designed to promote better health. Kraft’s Nabisco has recently unveiled KidSense Fun Packs – healthier versions of snacks such as Cheese Nips.
For brand marketers, this trend presents a growing opportunity in the way packaging is designed—the popularity of health and wellness products makes it imperative that packaging effectively stick out from the crowd.
Going beyond health
“If you focus solely on nutrition and health it’s going to be a real yawn to consumers,” says Steven Addis, chief executive officer of Addis Group, a brand strategy and design firm in Berkeley, Calif.
While consumers want to know a product is healthy, they will find a different primary reason to buy it.
“Consumers don’t emotionally bond to healthy products,” Addis says. “It sounds like hospital food. They want to know that it’s [healthy], but it needs to find another brand essence, another differentiation that is more around the personality of the brand.”
Addis, whose firm has designed packaging for Dole and Kashi, two companies known for their healthy products, points to the packaging for a new Kashi cracker called TLC as an example. Rather than pounding the health message over the heads of consumers, Addis Group chose to focus on the brand idea “Natural Wonder” with “natural” appealing to the cracker’s nutritional benefits but “wonder” appealing to the cracker’s physical and emotional benefits.
Addis then used various illustrations that didn’t have much to do with health at all to give the crackers more of a personality that consumers could relate to. On the box for Natural Ranch flavor, the cracker is depicted as a shooting star, the Honey Sesame package features the cracker as a setting or rising sun, and on the Original 7-Grain box the cracker sports a halo.
“[It’s] very, very simple—just a very quick pencil line of a halo,” says Addis. “It brings it the sense of wit. Wit became a way to differentiate when everyone else was yelling ‘healthy’ this and ‘snack’ this. We appealed to the audience on a more intelligent level.”
While it’s good to point out other elements in the packaging, that’s not to say that consumers aren’t looking diligently for the health benefits, as well. The focus on healthy lifestyles has grown and packaging is reflecting that. Stouffer’s Lean Cuisine has introduced the Spa Cuisine line, packaged as an inspiration from chefs at wellness spas across the country.
In fact, many consumer interest groups have increasingly been putting pressure on food marketers to offer and promote healthier alternatives, especially for children. The Kellogg Company, for example, has introduced a new high-fiber cereal called Tiger Power featuring Tony the Tiger around the concept, “Grow up big and strong with Kellogg’s Tiger Power cereal.”
In all of these examples one thing is constant: CPGs are focusing on the positive aspects of maintaining a healthy diet, while staying away from the negatives.
“I don’t think people want to be reminded that this is diet food or it’s about weight,” says Addis. “They don’t want to be reminded of the negative. So focus on the positive. Focus on the lifestyle that the brand fits within.”
In addition to touting lifestyles, companies are zeroing in on a few health trends that consumers are particularly aware of.
The consumption of whole grains is one such trend. A report released in March by Packaged Facts found that an emphasis on the importance of whole grains in one’s diet is contributing to a rebound in sales of breakfast foods.
General Mills touts the company’s commitment to whole grains in a logo that’s prominently stamped across the front of such cereals as Cheerios and Fiber One.
Another trend is the emphasis on cardiovascular care and foods that contribute to heart health. General Mills’ Yoplait tackles that one with “Healthy Heart” stamped across some of its yogurt labels.
But there is a caveat to identifying strongly with a health trend. There’s the risk that the trend will go the way of a fad, leaving marketers with the daunting prospect of repositioning and repackaging the product to make it relevant again.
“You have to think long and hard before you jump on the bandwagon,” says Barney Hughes, president of Hughes Design Group in Norwalk, Conn. Rather than focusing on the current trend, marketers should point out nutritious benefits that are more enduring, he says.
Take the recent carbohydrate craze. While many companies have been riding the crest in popularity of low-carb diets, that trend appears to be abating. In fact, Packaged Facts attributes the rebound in breakfast foods to the fact that consumers are adding carbohydrates to their diets again.
Hughes recently designed the packaging for Garelick Farms’ new ‘Over the Moon’ milk. The milk is being positioned as having more calcium and protein than other brands of milk, which leads to an improved taste. By focusing on increased calcium and protein, as well as taste, Hughes says, the company is emphasizing overall everyday nutrition and satisfaction rather than a current health trend.
To get that message across, Garelick Farms and Hughes used wording on the milk’s packaging to convey both points.
“There are some tools on the package like the ‘so rich and creamy’ statement, as well as the words, ‘low-fat milk with the taste of whole milk’ to communicate that they were getting the best of both worlds,” says Matt Samson, marketing director for Garelick Farms.
The companies also used the side of the carton to convey nutritional information about the milk.
“On the nutritional panel, we also have a nutritional content comparison as well—where we just call out calcium and protein and fat as what we found to be three of the key measures consumers would look at to determine how tasty it was,” says Samson. “But there’s a reason that’s on the side and not on the front. It was because that alone, we learned, wasn’t the key benefit. It was really when we coupled that benefit with the taste. It wasn’t just the more calcium, more protein, less fat. It was all the taste with those components.”
On the front of the package, the message is simple and sweet, mentioning low-fat or fat-free attributes and good taste, but that’s it.
Educating the consumer
Other companies have taken to using their packaging to educate consumers about their health.
Pepsico launched its Smart Spot program last July, which singles out foods and beverages that fall into certain nutritional guidelines. The company stamps the Smart Spot logo on the front of products that fit that criteria. “To help consumers understand why it fits into Smart Spot, on the back [of the package] is an explanation of how it got its Smart Spot classification,” says Aurora Gonzalez, director of health and wellness public relations for Pepsico.
Companies are also responding to consumers with various health conditions and creating products that cater to them.
“We’re doing a lot of niche products,” Hughes says. “We’re doing products for diabetics, products for people who have kidney ailments. Manufacturers are starting to recognize these groups have special needs and they’re very large groups. [Manufacturers are] able to make the numbers work by catering to them with special products.”
For example, Glucerna shakes and bars are specifically developed for diabetics. Likewise, Joint Juice has created beverages for those who suffer arthritis pain. Because they speak directly to a particular health condition, these types of products must have that specific functional health attribute displayed clearly on the packaging.
When it comes down to it, the value of a product’s health attributes depends on the product’s audience. If a product is known to be healthy, says Hughes, focus on something like taste. If a product is known to be tasty, let consumers know it is healthy, too. If the product meets a specific medical need, focus on that.
Health and wellness are important components of consumers’ lifestyles, but the brand marketer must not allow health and wellness to supercede the overall identity of the product’s target market.
Once that market is understood, tailor the health message to them.
“You can’t be everything to everybody,” says Hughes. BP
The July issue of Packaging Strategies highlights active packaging benefits; the private label boom post-COVID, staying competitive with X-ray machinery, a new OpX column, how factory of the future solutions unlock equipment efficiencies, expanding business with new product development and a household care company who believes it’s humor and sustainability that make the brand.