What’s Up with Wellness

Retailers have an opportunity to engage consumers by stocking the right “better-for-you” products and putting them in the right place.
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Wellness items are taking grocery aisles by storm. Pastas made from chickpea flour are landing in the same aisle as conventional no-boil lasagna noodles. Gluten- and nut-free cookies are sitting proudly near the corn syrup-enhanced snickerdoodles. 

Consumers are becoming more wary of what they put into their bodies and are happy to see better-for-you items making their way onto conventional grocery shelves. In the age of the internet and food intolerances, Millennials and older generations alike are reaching for products that promise cleaner labels, organic ingredients and an absence of gluten or other allergens. 

Consumer research from Enjoy Life Foods—a company that creates snacks that are free from the “top eight” allergens, including wheat, dairy and peanuts—sheds light on a group it calls the “wonderers.” These consumers do not actually have any food intolerances, but wonder how eliminating certain items from their diets will affect their health and well-being, according to Joel Warady, chief sales and marketing officer for the Chicago-based company. These “wonderers” are broadening the consumer base for better-for-you foods and helping to drive the category. Warady says he was surprised to discover that “wonderers” tend to be older than Millennials. 

“When you’re young you can eat whatever you want and life goes on,” Warady says. “When you get older you start to take longer to recover from hangovers or misplace your keys and wonder, ‘how can my life get better?’ Then you start to wonder, ‘can food be the medicine that makes my life better?’ Millennials are willing to experiment more, ‘wonderers’ are willing to do more research and then make a decision.”

Warady says Enjoy Life Foods’ core consumer group is still the “worriers,” those who have food intolerances or sensitivities, or have read something that caused them to change their diet habits. 

Jennifer Ellis, vice president for Austin, Texas-based The Seaweed Bath Co., which offers a range of face washes, detoxing scrubs and other personal care items that are enhanced with seaweed, says she also believes the strength of older generations is often underestimated. 

“I wouldn’t dismiss people who are 10 years older than Millennials because they have more disposable income and are willing to pay a little bit more money for better quality in their personal care,” Ellis says. “I think Millennials are certainly driving strength and awareness, but we still see the purchasing power come from 30- to 45-year olds because they have more disposable income and are more cognizant of their skin changing.”

That is not to say that Millennials are not driving the wellness category in a powerful way. The up-and-coming generation is dictating where they want the grocery industry to go as they snag their first salaried jobs and have their first children, industry observers say. One way they are doing this is by demanding that retailers carry items that meet both their wellness needs and their societal values. Susie Hewson, founder and developer of Greeley, Colo.-based Natracare, and its international sales and marketing director, says Millennials are growing the wellness category because they understand the negatives associated with conventional products. 

“Organizations like Turning Green, Naturally Savvy and Women’s Voices for the Earth are vocalizing the transparency problems concerning toxins and hidden ingredients, and Millennials are acting on this knowledge by seeking options within the organic, natural and wellness aisles of grocery,” Hewson says. “They do not separate out their concerns for climate change, animal rights and sustainability from consumer products, so beware of failing to review your ethical offerings.”

Bryan Morin, food category marketing specialist for NOW Foods, based in Bloomingdale, Ill., believes the growth of these “purposeful” brands is largely driven by Millennials. 

“Millennials are looking beyond the product the manufacturer is selling, they are also looking at the company behind the product,” Morin says. “Millennials will purchase a product because the brand aligns with a social cause that is meaningful to them or the product solves a problem; and they’ll reject a company that does not align with their values.” 

This trend toward “eating for the planet” has significantly grown the meat and dairy alternative category, observers say. Henry Schwartz, founder and president of Elma, N.Y.-based Elmhurst Milked, maker of responsibly sourced nut milk, says consumers are looking for brands that fit their environmental concerns and include products that are animal-friendly. 

“Consumers are looking for brands they can trust and products they can depend on to be safe, healthy, high quality and ‘kind,’ meaning their production does not cause harm to other people, animals or the environment,” Schwartz says. 

Vilma Livas, vice president of marketing for Los Angeles-based Califia Farms, says consumers turn to nut milks because they enjoy the taste, and because the products make their bodies and consciences feel good. 

“We are seeing a rise in consciousness about the way we consume and how it impacts our planet; choosing plant-based foods, for an increasing number of consumers, is as much about reducing our dependency on animal agriculture, which is the most resource consumptive industry on the planet today,” she says. 

Millennials are also driving the wellness category into the snacking aisles, observers say. This group is no longer satisfied with blowing through a bag of conventional potato chips when they get a midday hunger pang, but looking for snacks that will fill them up and provide them with additional nutritional benefits, such as protein or probiotics. 

“Millennials want more bang for their buck and want to make sure snacks are giving them what they need to keep going,” says Ann Kazemzadeh, president of Clara City, Minn.-based Kay’s Naturals, which offers nutrient-dense, protein-packed snacks. “People are time-starved and there is a lot of grab-and-go eating going on. I think people are making some effort to really eat as cleanly as they can.”

Sarah Iqbal, assistant brand manager for Wellnx, says one of the Mississauga, Ont., Canada-based company’s recent successful innovations is its non-GMO verified plant-based Pure Goodness snacks.

“We are seeing more Millennials replace their meals with a snack. Our Pure Goodness products, particularly our new lineup of naturally-nourishing snacks, are definitely in line with these trends,” she says. 

Another new Millennial-friendly snack on the market is Zemas Madhouse Foods’ snack-sized, ready-to-eat cookie packs, which are intended to provide a better-for-you alternative to traditional cookie snacks. 

“Consumers are looking for healthier alternative snacks, quick grab-and-go items and small meals, all offering minimal allergens and high quality ingredients with macro and micro nutrients,” says Jill Motew, president and founder of Highland Park, Ill.-based Zemas.

Millennials are not only looking for healthy snacks for themselves. Many Millennials now have little mouths to feed and demand quick, healthy snacking options for their children. Nature’s Bakery recently released a line of organic honey oat bars and brownies to cater to these needs. Dave Marson, owner and president of the Reno, Nev.-based company, says the goal is to provide organic and better-for-you snacking options at an affordable price. He does this by “cutting out the middleman” and producing the product without the use of a co-packer.

“There are a lot of organic products out there that are really expensive that a mom is not going to put in her kids lunch if it’s $1.29 a bar and their kids eat a ton of this stuff,” Marson says. “We’re meeting a more 50-cent threshold for our packages so that moms can afford to give it to their kids. We want a mom making $25,000 a year to still be able to afford to put these products in her kid’s lunch.”

Demian Potter, vice president of sales for Eden Foods, says that while reducing prices has been a focus of many better-for-you food companies, maintaining a high level of quality should be prioritized. The Clinton Mich.- based company is launching more than a dozen new items, including Instant Miso Soup, Italian-grown tomatoes in BPA-free cans and jars, and Kimchi and Three Onion Sauerkraut. 

“There is a trend to reduce prices without consideration for the compromise in quality and value this commonly requires,” Potter says. “Consumers are seeking transparency and are keen to read labels—Eden’s honest food production and labeling stands out in an industry where undeclared and untested ingredients proliferate.”

Healthy and affordable is not enough for young families. Today’s children have increasingly more say in what they eat, and they are saying that they want products that taste great as well. 

“We’re also seeing that the Millennial parenting style is different from that of other generations. It is less hierarchical and more collaborative, meaning that they seek input from their kids to aid in decision-making,” says Philippe Harousseau, CMO at New York-based GoGo squeeZ. “They look for products that are appealing to both them and to their child, and it’s all about the balance of fun and nutrition.”

Observers say there is a growing trend for children’s probiotics. 

“There is so much research out there showing the benefits of a good multi-strain probiotic for children and currently this area is unrepresented on the shelves,” says Lizzie Hardy, director of marketing and communications for Doral, Fla.-based Bio-Kult (Protexin). “We have found a niche and are helping to drive this category forward with an innovative product.”

Since consumers are becoming increasingly open to putting better-for-you items in their shopping carts, retailers must make sure these products are easily visible to them. One of the best ways to do that is with integrated/segregated aisles, meaning, for example, better-for-you pastas are located in the pasta aisle but have their own segregated shelf space. 

Warady says Kroger has been making an effort to move from segregated wellness sets to integrated/segregated, and Enjoy Life has seen double-digit growth in Kroger stores that have made the change. 

“It is all a result of consumers changing the way they shop and the way they eat, and their expectations are that the products will be where they normally would look for the products, not in another aisle,” Warady says. 

“It would be extremely helpful not to segregate conventional from natural products to gain more exposure to more consumers who might seek healthier options but are scared off by the natural section of the store due to assumptions that it’s more expensive,” says Jennifer Bacon, co-founder and chief brand officer of Westminster, Colo.-based Flapjacked. “Put natural products head to head with conventional and it’s a win/win for retailers and natural manufacturers who tend to pull in more dollars per store on average.”

Geoff Stella, vice president of marketing at Boulder, Colo.-based Ancient Harvest, says another great way for retailers to get wellness items noticed is to give them prominent display space, such as in a case at the front of the store.  

“That would be a great way for certain retailers to let consumers know what wellness items are there and where to find them,” he says. 

Larry Praeger, CEO of Elmwood Park, N.J.-based Dr. Praeger’s, says in-aisle recipe suggestions are another good way for retailers to highlight better-for-you items and give consumers ideas for how to use them. He says in-store nutritionists or proactive workshops that bring similarly interested shoppers together can also help engage consumers in the wellness movement.

“Retailers can help shoppers see the connections between the benefits of real foods and how to easily incorporate them into their shopping lists and into their diets,” he says.     


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