When I need to look at consumer behavior in the natural products industry, one of the first people I talk to is Diane Ray, vice president of strategic innovation at the Natural Marketing Institute. From a 20-minute conversation, I get more insights than I know what do with.
Here are three takeaways from our talk about the impact of dietary restrictions.
*Consumers aren’t concerned about whether a product is a medicine or a supplement as much as whether it has clinical proof and is readily available.
“I’m seeing people try a dairy supplement at a trade show that eases symptoms of lactose intolerance; they like it and then they can’t find it [except] through a distributor, though they would prefer to get it through mainstream distribution,” Ray says. “Is it a medicine or a supplement? The consumer just wants to be able to eat dairy and have the solution affordable and accessible.”
*More and more consumers “mistrust the basic food chain” and seek to distance themselves from animal-based nutrition, Ray says. She explains the logic thusly: “The further away from a plant source, the unhealthier it is perceived.” That explains the rise in interest of vegan and vegetarian options like My Vega, which caters “to people who are looking for a healthier eating regimen all around.”
*Of course, it will take time for interest to have a bigger impact. “Yogurt took over 20 years to mainstream,” Ray says.
“Brands felt they had to change the yogurt taste profile for the American palate,” she continues. “First, making yogurts sweeter and not moving toward natural/organic and healthier. Yogurt was “out there” and today it is in almost every household. What’s next? Seeds, algae and greens. Chia is becoming mainstream, Spirulina from algae and kale are showing up across a wide range of supplements, nutritional beverages, even mainstream cereals and snacks. These items are just hitting the mainstream, but have been in vegetarian and vegan diets for years.”
Ray also shared a ton of NMI’s research. Some of the more interesting findings:
*Gluten-free food and beverage demographics: The mean age for a consumer is 43 and skews slightly higher toward men. Nearly 40 percent of the general population has enjoyed gluten-free beverages/foods in the last year.
*The market segment most interested in gluten-free, according to “NMI: Well Beings ®. These consumers are the most proactive about their health and are “market leaders and influencers.” And they use and believe in supplements.
*Twenty-four percent of the general population says that they eat “a lot of vegetarian meals.”
*NMI polled respondents as to the medical or health issues they or a member of their household was treating or managing. 8.1 percent of respondents said “food allergies.” 8.3 percent claimed lactose intolerance.