All Aboard the Healthy Train

Ah, the pursuit of healthier eating… What interesting bedfellows this trend continues to make! The latest marriage is between Hormel Foods, the makers of SPAM (hold the Monty Python jokes), and Applegate Farms, the natural and organic prepared meat company. The dowry? $775 million.

Many see this as shrewd move by Hormel, capitalizing on the consumer’s quest for the ‘better for you’ alternatives offered by smaller, independent brands. Like the General Mills + Annie’s union before it, this latest mash up is a signal that the natural, healthy and organic food trend is not a fad. Larger food companies understand the imperative to adapt through evolution and acquisition or be left behind.

Our most recent study of Healthy confirmed the growing importance of better nutrition to consumers. Respondents see that eating right is a key component to the prescription for health. For consumers in the US & UK, healthy is connected with nature – things that are natural, clean, organic, and specific products associated with fresh and organic. Interestingly, in a previous study on the concept of Natural, consumers most often associated the word Organic with it. Layer in what respondents told us in a third study on Sustainability, and brands that stand for organic generate positive associations.

And that’s what Applegate Farms has going for it. Healthy. Natural. Sustainable. The brand with its simple tagline of ‘Natural & Organic Meats’ probably represents the best of these words to its fans. So it’s no surprise that many took to social media and other outlets to express their disappointment over the acquisition. As always for both companies in these pairings, the challenge will be authenticity. Will the big food company be able to convince consumers that they’re committed to the noble goals of their acquisition, and will the takeover target be able to stay believably true to their brand essence? Only time will tell.

But a word – or three – of encouragement to Applegate’s fan base and to Hormel: Ben & Jerry’s. Despite being acquired by global giant Unilever, the beloved ice cream maker has survived and thrived with unwavering commitment to its socially – and environmentally – responsible brand reputation. Sometimes unlikely marriages are the biggest success stories.

For more information on our Healthy, Natural or Sustainability studies, click here.

Marketing to the Millennial Food Shopper

There’s been a lot of talk about Millennials lately, and with good reason. Millennials currently make up the country’s largest living generation, and by extension, the country’s largest consumer group with $200 billion in annual buying power. This has not gone unnoticed, especially among big name brands. These days it seems that everyone is changing their marketing strategy to appeal to the Millennial consumer – a few months ago, we talked about TGIFridays removing the appetizer choice limits on their Endless Appetizer deal. Now, within the last month, we’ve heard about changes even more companies are making specifically focused on winning over Millennials.

First, marketers noticed the trend that Millennials have been moving away from beer, and choosing wine and spirits as their drink of choice. Frantically, beer companies have tried other tactics in order to win back the Millennial consumer with Anheuser-Busch releasing a spoof on classic cocktails including Bud Light Mixxtails and Bud Light Ritas. So far the canned cocktails have been a hit among Millennials, but only time will tell whether or not Millennials continue this trend or move on to drinking actual cocktails.

Then came the news that Target would be shifting its shelf marketing towards products that Millennials are more likely to buy. Consumers in general are starting to become more health-conscious and focused on buying natural or organic products. So in hopes of appealing to the “urban Millennial” Target is shifting the focus on their processed shelf staples to other items like Greek yogurt and granola. While this doesn’t mean that canned soup and boxed cereal will be completely removed from shelves, Target will be placing the spotlight on these products that today’s Millennial is more likely to buy.

However, the most surprising news was that Whole Foods (or as it’s more commonly called, Whole Paycheck) plans on launching a chain of lower-cost stores geared towards Millennials. While Whole Foods rose in popularity due to its early entrance into the organic grocery store scene, today healthy products can be found at almost any grocery store and at a much cheaper price. So while the demand for natural and organic products has increased, Millennials are still cash-strapped and price-conscious shoppers. The high cost of food at Whole Foods stores has generally been a turn-off for Millennials, but Whole Foods is hoping to gain their market share while at the same time being careful to not break the brand they have built up of “premium prices and premium products.” The stores, which will feature “a modern streamlined design, innovative technology and a curated selection,” are expected to start opening next year. And if prices are actually as reasonable as they are expected to be, you can be sure that this Millennial will definitely be shopping there.

The issue of Millennials being a younger generation and generally being less wealthy than the Boomer Generation is one that should be of particular interest to marketers. Affordability might just be the key to winning over the Millennial food shopper. Not every company can afford to just up and make a whole new chain of stores dedicated to winning over Millennials, however that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to lower the cost of food shopping. In our recent study on Millennials + Food & Nutrition, we briefly discussed how Millennials use a variety of sources for discounts and how over 90% of Millennial shopper use coupons (see clip below). This is something that not only applies to grocery stores, but also restaurants and product companies who also have the ability to control coupon deals. So, while Millennials do keep an eye out on the quality and freshness of goods they are buying, they are also aware of the limits placed on their food budget, and it’s up to marketers to find that balanced sweet spot.

For more information on our Millennials & Nutrition study, get in touch with us below.

Are Consumers Growing Sour on Sugar and Sweet on Stevia?

Fat. Carbs. High Fructose Corn Syrup. And now sugar. All nutritional villains in the consumers’ eyes.  In response to this mounting concern, food manufacturers and grocers are taking steps to decrease the amount of sugar in their products.

Some soda manufacturers, having already replaced high fructose corn syrup with regular sugar in some brands, are now vowing to reduce overall sugar content in others. Some are experimenting with sugar and stevia combinations. Supermarket chain Wegman’s is taking steps to reduce added sugar in its store brand products including yogurts, sauces and bakery items. Most recently, General Mills announced it was cutting sugar content by reformulating its Yoplait line of presweetened yogurts.

Why the scramble? Are consumers that concerned about their sugar intake? And what are the acceptable sweetener alternatives? According to our latest Buzzpoll it seems that consumers do care about what goes into their body – 65% specifically mentioned their concern about their sugar intake. Nine out of 10 said they read nutrition labels, with over half reporting that it’s to learn about sugar content.  The majority are willing to use artificial sweeteners or to try natural alternatives to sugar. Over a third are concerned about artificial sweeteners in their beverages. And a large majority said they’d have a positive opinion of a brand that used natural sweeteners rather than an artificial one.

To learn more about how consumers use nutritional info to make food decisions, the sugar substitutes they’re sweet on, and the ones that worry them, click here to see our infographic, Simple & Sweeteners.

Stay tuned for another new infographic coming out soon where we’ll show you findings from our latest Millennials and Nutrition study. HINT: sugar is mentioned there, too!

Emotional Associations For The Emerging Conscious Consumer

Have you heard of Made To Matter? It’s an exclusive line of products that Target started placing in their end caps and throughout their regular aisles this spring. There are 17 brands participating in the program. Half of them will be introducing line extensions and the other half are new products. The brands participating in the program include: Annie’s Homegrown, Burt’s Bees, Chobani, Clif Bar & Company, Ella’s Kitchen, EVOL, Horizon Organic, Hyland’s, Kashi, Method, Plum Organics, Seventh Generation, SheaMoisture, Target’s Simply Balanced, Vita Coco, Yes To and Zarbee’s Naturals.

Target’s website states, “Now more than ever, Target guests are on the lookout for natural, organic and sustainable products that are better for them and their families.” At BuzzBack, we couldn’t agree more. For the past few years we’ve chosen different marketing terms to better understand consumers’ associations across the globe. Our three most recent terms have been Natural, Healthy and Sustainability.

Our findings show that brand messaging shouldn’t rely soley on fuctional product benefits and that companies who play in the global market need to understand the different nuances across cultures. In our Healthy study we suggest that linking functional benefits to the emotional associations of a healthy lifestyle can more deeply connect with consumers.

For example, an area that we found interesting was how respondents associate Healthy across age/life stages, from babies, children, teens, young adults to mature adults. Moving from the youngest to the oldest age groups, US, UK, and German responders revealed a gradual shift from nurturing/emotional associations to nutrition, wellness, and being physically healthy. When looking at associations for the same stages among Brazilians however, the focus is on nutrition and emotional connections for the younger groups, and then later shifting to a combination of nutrition, education (or work) and fitness in later life stages.

In Germany and Russia, the focus is on emotional connections for the younger age groups and shifts to associations with nutrition, fitness, and balance for the older age groups (young/mature adults). For China we see strong associations with physical health throughout all age stages, with emphasis on physical strength and fitness being more evident for the later stages in life.

To request a copy of the findings from Natural, Healthy and/or Sustainability, click here.


Color Wars: International Reactions to Artificial Dyes

Recently the issue of artificial versus natural dyes came to my attention as a mother and it got me wondering why more companies aren’t jumping on this “natural” claims opportunity.

It all began when I noticed an interesting update in my Facebook newsfeed.  It was from a health conscious mom who blogs about whipping up unprocessed meals for her family (100 days of Real Food). This particular post took issue with artificial dyes found in many U.S. foods and the possible link between those dyes and behavioral problems in children. Apparently this has been an ongoing debate for some time without any hard evidence to actually sway the FDA to take action. However, that’s not the case everywhere. I was surprised to learn that in 2010 the European Union approved policy that states manufacturers must display this warning label on the product if artificial dyes are used:

“May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”

Rather than using this alarming message on their packages, many companies have opted to switch to natural coloring instead.

Since then, I’ve noticed this topic popping up beyond my newsfeed, on The Today Show and The Huffington Post. As consumers increasingly reach for products that are more natural and healthy, some U.S. companies are even being proactive.  Kraft just announced they would stop using artificial dyes in 3 kid-friendly macaroni and cheese products for 2014.

This got me wondering about which foods in my house contain artificial dyes and if I needed to start monitoring these with my 3 year old. Then I remembered the Goldfish®, her beloved go-to snack.

Goldfish Colorsrounded

I used to only buy the Original Goldfish® crackers. But during our annual summer beach trip with a few other families, my daughter discovered what she calls “the rainbow Goldfish®.” A conversation started up among the adults about the ingredient list: beet juice, paprika, turmeric, huito and watermelon. Nope, the adults couldn’t taste the beets or the watermelon! Ha! I think they were confused. These weren’t flavors but rather natural colorants. But what is so surprising to me is that this claim isn’t front and center on their packaging but tucked away on the side! Look at the picture that I took. The message on the front simply reads, “Colors. Baked with real cheese.”

How many more parents would choose this product if they knew it didn’t contain suspect artificial dyes? All of this reminded me that it’s quite difficult to get a new or alternative product on someone’s radar. Marketing consultant, Jack Trout wrote in his book, Differentiate or Die: Survival In Our Era of Killer Competition, that American families repeatedly buy the same 150 items, constituting as much as 85% of their household needs. Homing in on unique and meaningful product claims can raise awareness to other products for consideration. Our most recent webinar on claims research underscores how important it is to know your objectives in order to crack the claim code. Are you trying to find something unique about your product? Claims are important because they can help companies differentiate and can impact brand and product perceptions. Which is exactly what happened with me! I never once thought of buying the rainbow Goldfish before, but now that I know they are made with natural colors they’ll definitely be on my Mom-approved Snack List from now on!


Consumers’ Embrace of ‘Natural’ Drives Product Packaging and Repositioning

In case you missed it, there was an article in Fast Company that reported how 3 brands (Lean Cuisine, Vlassic Pickles, and Dole Fruit) applied some rethinking to their product offerings in response to the increasing quest by consumers for more natural foods. Through line extensions and repackaging, the brands sought to shed the negative associations of processed and preserved foods.

This move is completely in line with BuzzBack’s recent exploratory study on ‘Natural’. Natural is an important platform for a range of categories – from foods to personal care to shoes and more! Interestingly enough, all these products fell into the areas where consumers told us that being Natural was most important: fruits/vegetables and meat/poultry. A focus on packaging was also a smart move, as participants in our study say it’s the top information source for learning about or discovering natural products. Consumers also told us that when deciding whether to buy a natural product, the most important claims center around ingredients being natural, organic, unrefined and unprocessed. For more info on consumers’ associations around Natural, click here to request our free white paper.