Family cooking together

Why are consumers fascinated with the idea of plant-based foods? What is the motivation for trial of hybrid creations of meat, poultry and seafood alternative options? These are not new questions but merely contemporary examples of the types of questions asked to understand observed changes in consumers’ eating and drinking behaviors.

Working as we do at the intersection of food, culture and consumer behavior, we believe it’s important to always track key dialogues in these arenas. Because many believe these discussions — and the people seen as shaping them — will eventually affect consumer behavior at a mass scale. But what if these debates can themselves be rolled up into larger shifts in contemporary culture? Rather than simply listening to experts and pundits, wouldn’t it be more important to understand the forces that cause consumers to think and act the way they do?

We believe that for decades, the single most important factor motivating consumers to change their eating and drinking behaviors has been health and wellness.

Consumers’ definition of “wellness” has broadened substantially. In 2000, health and wellness was spurred by consumers’ need to take back control of their personal health and the health of their families. In 2019, we see consumers as engaged in health and wellness, but the overarching objective of participation is moving toward the realization of quality life experiences. It is these evolving notions of quality of life that will continue to influence a redefinition of traditional health and wellness thinking for years to come.

The Road to Health & Wellness: Generational Differences

Think of how far we’ve come. With its significance likely lost among the thousands of SKUs packing today’s The idea of food as medicinesupermarket shelves, many of us may not recall that the less-than-flashy graham cracker is a historic relic of the 19th century. It was inspired by the proselytization of the evangelical minister Sylvester Graham, an advocate of dietary reform and vegetarianism.

Reverend Graham would no doubt find it fascinating (or alarming, given his beliefs) to see today’s consumers embracing lifestyles and navigating health and wellness with greater breadth and depth of knowledge than ever before. What would he think of plant-based foods like the Impossible Burger?

Cultural assumptions about what health and wellness encompasses continue to evolve, especially as consumers gain greater awareness of the dynamic connections between body and mind within a national mood that feels generally anxious and uncertain.

Over the course of the past 30 years, we have explored how consumers now take a more proactive approach to wellness, as opposed to the previous reactive approach of addressing health only when it becomes a problem.

Consumers continue to view health and wellness holistically, as maintaining balance in physical health, mental health and lifestyle. As the following chart illustrates, findings from our Health + Wellness 2019 report suggest that older consumers are more likely to think of health and wellness more broadly than younger consumers, likely reflecting the larger role it may play in their lives.

Health & Wellness By Age Cohort

In the 1980s, the American perspective on health and wellness had no wellness. There was little sense of a holistic connection between exercise and food. Today, wellness is fully integrated into American culture — and consumer lifestyles will continue to evolve as consumers pursue new levels of interests and preferences that transcend products and brands.

To keep pace with today’s rapidly evolving consumers, marketers and retailers need to adopt a different set of metrics more aligned with how consumers live, shop and use products within the contexts of everyday life. Companies looking to expand their healthier products and services portfolio should look to the attributes within the World of Wellness as the gateway to unlocking potential market opportunities.

Additional resources and insights: Two must-have reports

Health + Wellness 2019: From Moderation to Mindfulness

Food & Technology 2019: From Plant-based to Lab-grown