- New research from Mintel found that U.S. consumers prefer exercising (48%) to eating healthy (31%). Most consumers are also unlikely to change their diet to stay healthy, with just a fifth responding they would avoid sugar and 12% saying they would eat a low-calorie diet or limit their meat intake.
- Cost was also a factor for people who chose working out rather than improving their eating. The research found that consumers are almost seven times more apt to say that it's expensive to eat healthy food (34%) than to agree it’s costly to work out (5%).
- "As exercise is the driving force behind jump-starting healthy lifestyle changes in the new year, healthy food marketers should consider associating their products with exercise to make the food a part of the emotional experience of healthy activity," Mike Gallinari, travel and leisure analyst at Mintel, said in a release.
For consumers looking to drop weight in the new year, diets are no longer the answer. People would rather exercise rather than spend money on healthy foods, which contradicts the better-for-you trend.
In recent years, consumers — particularly millennials and Generation Z — have been adapting healthier eating habits. This has pushed Big Food to change their portfolios and consider switching legacy brands for more nutritious ones. However, many of these better-for-you products are a bit more expensive to consumers.
The study also found that shoppers are becoming more critical of what they buy. With an increasing number of better-for-you foods on shelves, Mintel found that 58% of consumers said they are skeptical of products labeled "superfoods," and only 40% trust the health claims listed on food and beverage packaging. Those statistics shouldn't come as a surprise to major food producers, since recent reports have revealed major companies aren't doing enough to give consumers the tools to actually eat healthy or afford the better-for-you foods.
If people would rather exercise than eat a nutritious diet and don't trust the healthier products they see in stores, then CPG companies might not need to develop as many better-for-you alternatives. For food and beverage companies with traditional sugary products, this study could be good news since those products are often cheaper to produce.
But consumers might not have come to these conclusions on their own.
Just as this study was released, new research came out from a report published in the BMJ and Journal of Public Health Policy that found American food companies — including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé and McDonald's — have been funding a group to shape China's obesity policy. The policy focuses on the role of exercise and not diet when it comes to obesity. China's health initiatives specifically promote fitness and don't mention lowering the consumption of sugary drinks and processed foods, which has boosted sales for these American brands.
This method isn't unfamiliar. Coke tried similar methods in the United States by teaming up with scientists and starting a nonprofit called the Global Energy Balance Network to promote a message that exercise could solve obesity. But the company disbanded it in 2015. Since then, the U.S. and Europe have been pushing healthier eating by cutting back on soda and unhealthy snacks to fight obesity with new initiatives.
Considering these survey results, its unclear how successful those efforts have been. What is apparent is food brands have their marketing work cut out for them. While there are some brands that are completely affiliated with fitness — and that do extremely well with marathoners, Cross Fitters and triathletes — everyone is not an extreme athlete. Better-for-you products could show themselves as a good fit in the life of the kind of person who makes a new year's resolution to exercise more — and isn't necessarily looking for performance enhancement.