Manufacturers push boomers’ health buttons

Not since the fitness-obsessed '80s have mainstream food and beverage marketers put so much time and effort into trying to attract the health-conscious consumer. ...

Not since the fitness-obsessed ’80s have mainstream food and beverage marketers put so much time and effort into trying to attract the health-conscious consumer.

If products aren’t low in fat, they’re fortified with calcium. If they’re not cholesterol-free, they’re chock-full of vitamins and minerals.

As evidence of this trend, one need look no further than cereal manufacturer Kellogg, which plans this month to introduce a new soy-based cereal called Vive, according to reports in the grocery trade.

While Kellogg Canada refuses to comment on the new brand, sources say Vive – a cinnamon-flavoured, crunchy flaked cereal with granola clusters – is a product that could do for the cereal category today what oat bran did in the 1980s.

Such a product would be perfectly positioned to capitalize on recent studies, including a U.S. Food and Drug Administration health claim that daily intake of soy protein can help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and several forms of cancer.

‘It’s going to redefine the health food area and capitalize a powerful health trend,’ one source says.

But Vive is just the tip of the iceberg. From vitamin-laced candies to run-of-the-mill bottled water, packaged goods manufacturers are clambering over one another in an attempt to capture a chunk of this important market segment.

While one needs to draw a distinction between health products – those that actually treat ailments or help enable the body – and so-called healthy alternatives to mainstream foods, the target is invariably the same: that mass of consuming humanity known as the baby boom generation.

Just how important to mainstream packaged goods manufacturers is the development of health-focused products?

‘It’s absolutely critical,’ says Chris Johnston, group brand manager for non-carbonated beverages and innovation at Coca-Cola Canada, which launched its bottled water Dasani brand in 1999 with the same target market in mind.

‘As a business, there is a huge opportunity for us to offer products that deliver on a functional benefit, that deliver a wellness benefit.’

Coke has been steadily moving into the healthy alternative category since the mid-1990s through the acquisition and launch of brands including Minute Maid juices, Dasani, Nestea, and Fruitopia.

While bottled water may seem to have little in common with soy-based cereal, both are an attempt to capitalize on the health concerns of aging consumers.

Johnson says Coca-Cola’s studies indicate that as people grow older, they consume less in the way of juice and soft drinks and more water.

‘Water [consumption] categorically is a healthy behaviour,’ he says. ‘It provides energy, it detoxifies, it keeps the skin moist, it aids in hydration, it aids in digestion – it does a million things.’

One sector that seems to be enjoying significant product development is that of the nutritious snack.

Earlier this month, Adams Canada, a division of pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer Canada, and maker of Trident gum, introduced a new brand to the market called BodySmarts to capitalize on this trend. The confectionery products – which include Fruit and Yogurt Chews and Active Nutrition Bars – are fortified with vitamins and minerals and come in a range of flavours.

‘Consumers are concerned about nutrition generally and, particularly, how it relates to snack products that they’re eating during the day in between meals,’ says Stan MacLachlan, director of marketing at Adams Canada. ‘This brand and this new category is really an attempt to meet that growing consumer need.’ (See Campaign Spotlight, page 4.)

Such products, says management consultant Ihor Saplywyj, director of the retail and consumer packaged goods practice at Toronto-based PriceWaterhouseCoopers, represent an evolution in the area of healthy alternatives.

‘It’s a natural evolution. People backed away from the health craze of the ’80s [when they were] eating things with no taste or that tasted awful,’ he says. Now they want healthy alternatives that also taste good.

‘While it might be difficult to argue that a lot of these [brands] are health products, there are probably more products that are not as bad for you and that actually have some vitamins and nutrients added.’

For its part, Kellogg has been at the vanguard of the healthy alternatives category since 1906, when it introduced Corn Flakes, the first ready-to-eat cereal. That it is still riding the healthy alternatives bandwagon can be seen through last year’s introduction of Vector, a cereal the company boasts is the first ‘meal replacement’ in a flaked format, enriched with 16 essential vitamins and minerals.

Christine Lowry, vice-president nutrition and corporate affairs at Kellogg Canada, and a registered dietician, says boomers are becoming increasing ‘literate’ when it comes to healthy eating.

‘They’re looking for products that put this health need into context for them, obviously something that tastes good but also meets their health and nutrition needs.’

While the marketing plans for these brands vary, all seem to place a great deal of emphasis on their packaging.

Kellogg Milkrunch, for example, touts itself first and foremost as a source of calcium. BodySmarts Peach and Yogurt Chews proudly displays the fact that it is fortified with vitamins A, C and E.

Nick Evans, business director of soup with Toronto-based Campbell Soup Canada contends that promoting such details can pay handsome dividends.

Evans cites a recent change to the labeling of Campbell’s Ready to Serve soups, which last year were experiencing depressed sales despite the growth in health-associated foods. One of many changes included isolating the words ‘Healthy Request’ on the labels.

‘By making it simpler for the consumer to find the healthier choice, the Healthy Request skews have been growing at 30% in the last six months,’ he says.

As for the new Kellogg Vive, five will get you 10 that the word ‘soy’ will be prominently displayed for all to see – particularly those concerned for their aging hearts.