Heart disease and associated cardiovascular disorders pose an enormous threat to the health of Americans. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States; heart disease, stroke and other types of cardiovascular diseases claim more lives than all types of cancer combined. About 2,100 Americans die each day from these diseases—one every 40 seconds. It is clearly an epidemic.
While some inherent risk factors such as age, family history and race may increase the incidence of heart health issues, many of the problems seen today are a result of lifestyle factors. Poor diet, physical inactivity, smoking and stress can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity—all triggers for heart health concerns.
Americans are justly worried. According to Natural Marketing Institute’s (NMI) current report, 2015 Trends in Healthy Living©, nearly six in 10 are very or somewhat concerned about preventing heart disease, high blood pressure or high cholesterol. This report is based on a nationally projectable online quantitative survey of more than 3,000 adults, which has been conducted annually since 1999 and trends over 16 years of consumer attitudes and behaviors regarding health and wellness. This study can help provide insight into consumer attitudes and behaviors regarding heart health, and also develop market solutions to meet their needs.
Healthy Ingredients via Foods and Beverages
Many consumers are making proactive positive changes to address their heart health concerns, and eating healthy is one key way. A majority (78 percent) believe they can manage many of their health issues through proper nutrition, and more than three-quarters report eating heart healthy foods or beverages in the past year, up from about two-thirds in 2005. In fact, 28 percent note they have increased their usage of heart healthy foods in the past year. Further, four in 10 have changed their diets specifically to lower cholesterol.
Beyond using products deemed “heart healthy," a majority also use a variety of other types of foods and beverages that have reported heart health benefits: whole grain (85 percent), high fiber (77 percent), low sodium (70 percent), low fat (72 percent) and fat free (67 percent). Achieving wellness through diet is a popular choice, and consumers are clearly looking for foods with ingredients that promote heart health.
To that end, consumers associate certain ingredients with heart health benefits. Omega-3s are most likely to be considered beneficial to both heart health and cholesterol (nearly twice as likely to be known as beneficial for heart health). Antioxidants, whole grains and fiber are also considered heart healthy ingredients. But while these may be noteworthy levels of understanding, what is even more notable is that most consumers do not associate these heart beneficial ingredients with any heart health benefits; and some incorrectly associate other ingredients with having heart benefits. Therefore, education is vital for market growth.
In With the Good, Out With the Bad
Overall, consumers show a trend toward desiring more beneficial ingredients and fewer ingredients known to cause health issues. This extends to ingredients associated with heart health, as consumers clearly show a desire to increase their intake of ingredients known to promote heart health, while decreasing those that can contribute to heart-related illnesses.
In fact, notable proportions of consumers consider their diets deficient in some of these key heart healthy ingredients, including fiber (33 percent), omega-3s/fatty acids (31 percent) and whole grains (27 percent). There is clearly a desire to boost consumption.
But beyond just including the key ingredients, consumers want to know their food is working for them. Many desire foods that have a specific health claim, such as “oatmeal may lower the risk of heart disease," and more than half (55 percent) want their stores to carry such foods.
The Option of Heart Healthy Ingredients via Supplementation
While interest in healthy foods and beverages is strong and many believe they can manage their health issues through good nutrition, obtaining healthy ingredients through supplementation is also an option for many, albeit fewer. More than four in 10 (44 percent) believe they can manage many of their health issues by taking vitamins, minerals and other supplements, versus 58 percent who believe they can do so through diet. And while more consider supplements to be preventive versus a treatment for health issues (35 percent versus 10 percent, respectively), most believe they can serve both purposes (43 percent).
Usage of supplements specifically designated for heart health (6 percent) and cholesterol (8 percent) are relatively low compared to usage of omega-3 fatty acids (16 percent), a noted supplement for heart issues. But among those who use these types of supplements for heart disease, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, a majority consider them very or somewhat effective.
Both the functional food and beverage industry and the supplement industry are poised for continued growth in the heart health arena as consumers show increased interest and proactive behaviors in being accountable for their own health. White space exists even in this mature market and can be defined by clustering benefits and/or addressing the specific desires of those wanting to prevent heart disease versus those wanting to prevent the progression of heart disease, or who are seeking alternatives to increasing use of medications.
However, for manufacturers of products related to heart health, it is critical to recognize consumers’ knowledge and understanding of these ingredients. Education is necessary to develop a more solid foundation of knowledge for consumers about the benefits of these ingredients, enabling them to make informed decisions and take more responsibility for their heart health. Assisting them in the ancillary areas of heart healthy options will also be key.
Maryellen Molyneaux is president and managing partner at Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) (nmisolutions.com). NMI is a strategic consulting, market research and business development firm specializing in the health, wellness and sustainability marketplace. For more information on NMI’s services or proprietary research tools, contact Molyneaux at [email protected] or visit NMIsolutions.com.