The global ‘Healthy Foods’ industry is expected to top $1 trillion for the first time in 20171. The industry descriptor is “functional, allergen-free, organic and other healthy foods,” inclusive of both food and beverages which have a roughly 60/40 split in dollar terms.
But being healthy and saying “healthy” are two different things. To be able to say “healthy” the FDA has a stringent list of requirements around fat, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, percent of daily vitamin and mineral requirements and other source of identity restrictions. Many if not most of the food products that are in the industry classification of ‘Healthy Foods’ cannot meet these standards and thus cannot say that they are “healthy” in marketing communications.
So how do products communicate via marketing that they are “healthy” without actually saying it? I was recently involved with a client project that was in this particular situation and the good news is that marketers are nothing if not creative. An entire lexicon has developed that orbits the word “healthy” and manages to communicate the same sentiment while at the same time actually providing more specificity as it relates to the need states and benefits of particular products.
One way to show how this works is to reverse engineer some healthy foods print advertising into a Healthy Foods positioning segmentation with associated language for each segment, which I will attempt to do now.
Fitness – The fitness positioning is associated with products like meal-replacement bars, protein shakes and supplements. The “healthy” language here tends to revolve around scientifically-driven formulations and so we see words like “nutrition” and “nutrients” a lot, “pure” and “clean” as well as “metabolism” and “science” itself. The weight management component translates to “lean” and “fit” while taste translates to “no sacrifice”.
Weight Management – This positioning is cousin to Fitness but reflects the softer side that doesn’t necessarily involve hardcore fitness and working out. As a result, we see some similar “healthy” pseudonyms like “fit” and “nutrition” but “lean” gets replaced by “light” and “thin” while “no sacrifice” gets replaced by “guilt free”.
Heart-Health – Heart disease is the #1 killer in America and so we certainly see the benefit of heart health being advertised a lot. The “healthy” language tends to be a lot of plays on the word “heart” such as “heart healthy”, “heart smart” and “heart happy”. The American Heart Association’s heart check certification program is a powerful endorsement tool in this arena and is often seen in heart health oriented advertising.
Energy – While we tend to think of the energy bar category here, there is really a large cross-section of products touting energy benefits derived from nutrients like protein and potassium. The favorite “healthy” pseudonyms here are “power” and “fuel”.
Natural – The natural positioning is the notion that there is nothing fake or artificial in the product. This benefit is clearly on trend and often associated with the organic and local food movements as well. “Healthy” pseudonyms here include “Natural” and “Nature” of course but also “Goodness”, “Simple”, “Pure”, “Real”, and “Plant-Powered”.
Soul Health – I wasn’t sure what to call this area but there is certainly a growth trend behind products that are ‘better for you’ because they are produced more humanely and sustainably and as a result you can feel better about buying and eating them without wrecking the ecosystem. Organic certification is certainly a part of this but so is grass-fed, free-range, local, fair trade, sustainably caught and a host of other qualifications and certifications. The “healthy” language is perhaps the most nebulous here because it’s a nuanced topic, but beyond the certifications themselves we probably see the word “fresh” most frequently, along with things like “family farm” and simply “better”.
In summary, while the FDA limits use of the word “healthy” to a small sub-segment of products that make up the larger “Healthy Foods” industry, there are still plenty of other words out there that can and do get used to communicate health to consumers. Even better, these words communicate in ways that more specifically identify the benefits that each product is bringing to the marketplace. The positioning areas I’ve laid out are broad and work across categories, but there are important nuances within each category. Segmenting your specific category in terms of consumer needs, product benefits and competitive positioning is the work of marketing strategy. Getting it right will maximize your marketing spend and grow sales & profits!