Is wellness a long-lasting trend or great marketing tool?

During lunch last week, I asked trend guru Bob Messenger, a former editor of Food Processing, if wellness is a long-lasting trend or just a great marketing tool. After all, one would think with all the foods promising wellness -- from heart health to better digestion -- hitting the market, articles in the media about the desire of American consumers to eat healthier and pressure from government agencies and nannies to fight the obesity epidemic and stop touting so-called unhealthy foods to children, that functional and nutraceutical foods would be toppling over each other in mom's shopping cart. We all know that isn't the case. Why? Because perception is those foods don't taste as good, and most consumers won't sacrifice taste or convenience for healthier attributes.   Bob and I agreed there is no doubt the foods under the "wellness" umbrella are here to stay, but while change in consumer behavior is steady, it is much slower than one would think. Functional foods are a nice-sized niche with dedicated shoppers motivated to seek products for long-term health, quick energy, vitality and good looks. Baby boomers may be desperately dabbling in wellness, but it will be a younger generation that transforms our society. Take a look at what the major food companies are doing. They are making products with whole grains, adding antioxidants, omega-3s and are investing in long-term healthier platforms, while R&D scrambles to make wellness foods that taste great. They are moving at the same rate as consumer demand. "Our kids' kids will be the generation that drives a meaningful transition to foods offering serious health benefits because their parents will have done a better job of teaching these kids about the foods they eat," says Bob. "Those kids, when they are adults, will be fans of vegetables and other foods that promote health and nutrition, and they will teach their kids, as well." Meanwhile, it's up to marketing. Kraft Foods changed the marketplace with 100-calorie packages for calorie control. Dannon and General Mills have done an outstanding job of convincing Americans about the benefits of good bacteria in yogurt. Campbell Soup Co.'s ad campaign for V-8 vegetable juices (which, incidentally, have been around since 1947) and V-8 Fusion (which contains both veggies and fruit), featuring people getting bopped on the forehead and the line that quickly became a catch-phrase: "Could've had a V8," has rocketed sales 10 percent and the company now plans to add more juice-production capacity. Pepsi's Quaker Oats is marketing both health and convenience for its oatmeal cookies and bars, making the idea of oatmeal breakfasts contemporary and hip. Kellogg Co. is moving nutritional information from the back to the front of the box to help identify healthy attributes instantly. And that is a brilliant marketing strategy. Food companies are wise not to put all their omega-3 eggs into one basket. Wellness isn't just a trend; it's the beginning of a lifestyle change. Some day, in the not too distant future, Americans will be holistic in their approach, incorporating health and nutrition into their lifestyles without a second thought.

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