Speaking at the Vitafoods show in Geneva, Datamonitor analyst Katie Page said research revealed that 89% of European consumers said they were interested in buying functional foods to manage a disease, but only 40% actually made purchases.
Some of the key issues for consumers were energy levels, sleep quality and mental health, in addition to physical fitness.
She said manufacturers would only tackle this “attitude and action gap” and exploit the “huge opportunity” if they made the sector “less threatening for consumers”.
Disease management trend
She added: “Ongoing health epidemics mean the disease management trend is likely to stay and there is plenty of opportunity.
“Two out of three deaths are related to so-called lifestyle choices and the consumer is becoming more cognisant of the fact they can prevent or manage them.”
Page outlined several key factors – including clear health claims, convenience and naturalness – that were offering ample opportunities for manufacturers.
She told delegates that it was vital that the marketing of the health benefits was clear and concise.
“There is a danger that you can create consumer choice paralysis,” she said. “In terms of a strategy, it is better to pick one [health claim] than bombarding them with too many.”
‘Consumer choice paralysis’
Page said the food firms that were having success in the disease management sector were those which combined a functional benefit with convenience.
Companies manufacturing ‘shot-style’ functional beverages and small bottles of super juices are doing particularly well because it is an “easy and less threatening” purchase which “encourages daily use”, she said.
“[Manufacturers] should also not underestimate the importance of naturalness for consumers. They easily relate to natural attributes and it adds credibility,” she added.
Looking ahead, Page said the concept of personalised nutrition and nutragenomics – using information about genetic make-up to tailor nutritional needs – was rapidly gathering momentum with consumers.
The challenge for industry, however, was to find its “marketing hotspot” and make it easier for consumers to access their genetic information.
“There is a huge opportunity for food firms in this area to think about in-store diagnostics to develop this,” she said.
“This is building on the trend we are seeing for consumer genomics where people are eating diets based on body specifics, such as blood types.”
Regardless of the strategy taken by a manufacturer, Price said it was imperative to tap into the soaring use of digital media for healthcare advice.
She said there were now more than 13,000 health apps – ranging from advice sites to innovative developments such as Glucose Buddy – a smart phone app that helps manage diabetes.
“Consumers are increasingly looking for health advice through digital media. 10 years ago they had to go to the doctor, but that has all changed. This is a significant marketing opportunity.”