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Brazil: A Dynamic Region with Dynamic Health Goals

Brazil—known as the “country of the future"—is striving to get healthier by choosing natural foods and beverages, and using more supplements.

Beyond being the largest country in South America, Brazil is the fifth largest in the world based on population and geography, and has experienced many changes in the last few decades, both social and economic. Social inequality, which has been reduced through various health, education, labor and employment policies, has allowed the country and economy to grow rapidly, especially during the early part of the century. Due in part to this growth, demographics and health patterns of the population have shifted. With an increase in life expectancy, the population, which reached nearly 205 million in 2015, is considered to be “aging" at a rapid pace. In addition, Brazil, like so many other countries in the region, is dealing with a large portion of its population living unhealthy lifestyles.

In the past three years, the economy has slowed down, inflation has limited the spending power of the consumer, and the issue of obesity is becoming paramount. According to Brazil’s Ministry of Health, with nearly one in two adults and one in three children overweight, obesity and chronic diseases are now the leading causes of death among adults. To help combat this growing health issue, the Ministry of Health released the second edition of the Dietary Guidelines for the Brazilian Population in 2014, which look to improve the health and well-being of the population by promoting adequate nutrition and healthy eating habits. Some of the guidelines’ key points not only include changes in the foods that are consumed (limiting oils, fats, salt, sugar and processed foods) but also recommendations on where and how foods are purchased and prepared (shopping in places that offer natural foods, developing and sharing cooking skills, and meal planning). Interestingly, the last recommendation in the guidelines is for consumers to be wary of food marketing and advertising. All of these health-related developments need to be considered when pursuing opportunities in the region.

Living a Healthy Lifestyle

According to quantitative consumer research from the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), Brazilian consumers indicated they are taking more responsibility for their own health now more than they were 10 years ago. In fact, more than eight out of 10 said they try to eat balanced meals when possible, and exercise, on average, three times per week. The biggest drivers for wanting to live a healthy lifestyle include longevity and remaining independent—not surprising considering a rapidly aging population. Consumers also indicated their concern for preventing disease, rather than treating it, as a reason for increased health responsibility.

Despite healthy attitudes, a growing percentage of the population is still facing obesity and subsequent chronic health issues, which highlights a discrepancy in what consumers are saying they do versus what they actually do. It is important to realize this “say/do gap" as it may be an indication of barriers that consumers are facing when trying to be healthier. A barrier such as perceived cost is prevalent among consumers with nearly two-thirds agreeing that healthy foods are too expensive to eat on a regular basis. Additionally, the increase in full-time employment in the nation and managing work/life balance is clearly bringing challenges to Brazilians acting on their healthy attitudes.

While Brazilians may not be as healthy as they think they are, striving to be healthier is definitely on their minds. These consumers realize the importance of managing proper weight, consuming healthy food and including more exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Whether the increased focus on living a healthier lifestyle is the result of the changes in the government dietary guidelines, or simply because of the increasing amount of information available related to managing health, the fact is Brazilian consumers are looking for ways to improve their health and wellness, which is creating opportunities across many nutritional categories including foods, beverages, supplements and personal care items.

Food & Beverage Trends

The importance of consuming healthy and nutritious foods to maintain a healthy lifestyle is growing among Brazilians, and with it the increased need to have healthier products readily available to them. With the prevalence of health problems such as diabetes in the region, opportunities arise to introduce products that will help combat such specific issues. Consumers are seeking products with less sugar, reduced fat and low sodium, as well as foods that are free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. This creates an interesting challenge for food and beverage companies, especially since consumers rarely want to sacrifice taste.

In addition to foods, non-carbonated ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages are becoming popular and are viewed as an alternative to sugary sodas.  In fact, Brazil saw the highest percentage of RTD launches within the Latin American region over the past year. 

However, it’s more about just reducing fat and sugar. As consumers are becoming more in-tune with their health, they are examining labels to get a better understanding of what they are putting in their bodies. It is important to consumers to have natural foods or products that are organically grown available to them at the stores where they shop.

According to NMI’s Global Health & Wellness Trends Database® (HWTD), 83 percent of Brazilian consumers surveyed agreed “somewhat/completely" that they try to eat balanced meals when possible, and 76 percent stated eating healthy was a vital part of their lives. In terms of where they shop, 85 percent of Brazilian consumers surveyed agreed somewhat/completely that it was important for their store to offer foods that are natural/organically grown, while 74 percent desired their retailer to offer foods free from artificial colors, flavors and preservatives.

Vitamin, Mineral, Supplement Trends

While Brazilians place importance on the foods they eat, a majority agreed that taking a vitamin or mineral supplement every day is important to their overall health, and more than six out of 10 reported having used a supplement in the past 30 days, which is only slightly below the United States. NMI research also showed more than one-third of consumers indicated their supplement usage increased over the past five years, thus presenting strong opportunities for vitamins, minerals, herbals and other dietary supplements in the region.

As mentioned before, while Brazil is aging, the population as a whole is still younger on average than many other parts of the world. Therefore, brand messaging will be important to consumers who are looking for products to remain healthy and youthful.  Sports nutrition, hydration, workout recovery and energy drinks are all prime target categories.

While tablets and capsules are the preferred supplement format, opportunity to expand lies in alternative formats, such as nutritional bars and RTD beverages.  This is not surprising considering two out of five consumers are using fortified or functional foods/beverages on a regular basis.

The Future

In this dynamic region, manufacturers not only are challenged with providing new products to a consumer base striving to be healthy, but concerns for food safety, non-GMO, environmentally-friendly versions of products are also trends that need to be taken into account. Efforts made by combining personal and planetary health will go a long way in influencing behavior. Many experts refer to Brazil as the “country of the future"—making this region an attractive opportunity for many.

Steve French ([email protected]) is managing partner at the 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.

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