Consumer Behavior In Food And Dietary Choices, Changes In Small Nibbles. Not Big Bites!
<p><strong><u>Consumers are leaning towards immunity in their dietary choices and companies are fast cashing in</u></strong>: </p><p>Now with a debilitating second wave upon us, and talk of a third and a fourth wave, the urban-ites are clearly making self care a priority. We're seeing a shift from healthy eating to more holistic care - that includes healthier eating, and greater mindfulness of quality family time, emotional and mental wellbeing. Zooming in on the immunity craze, there is evidence in the sharp increase in sales of immunity category foods - recent reports of quarterly and full year results of different companies show a 50% to 300% revenue growth in amla juice, Chavyavanprash, honey, Haldi related products, etc. We've also seen a spate of new launches - immunity tea, Haldi drops, neem tulsi juice, tulsi drops, immunity bread, Haldi ice cream, kadha this and that... the F&B sector went crazy in the rush to take advantage of consumer anxiety. </p><p> </p><p><strong><u>However when it comes to food, consumer behaviour changes in small slow nibbles. And its change by 'addition' not substitution or subtraction from the existing repertoire</u></strong>. </p><p>We Indians are driven by taste - we don't allow healthier eating to come in the way of taste. I have worked on food for over a decade (Unilever and Pepsi) and all consumer research reveals we don't replace junk with good. We make small additions of good to the ongoing junk. So don't mess with my regular bhujiya, or samosa, or chips or barfi. Baked chips or a spinach bhujiya (we tried at PepsiCo), or a sugarless barfi just doesn't satisfy. We may buy some of it to project and falsely flaunt a healthier lifestyle, but we all know what we turn to when we're alone. What we're happy to do instead is make small lifestyle changes or balance the bad with good: Like "I'll walk one extra round around my building".. or "Chalo bhujiya ke baad adrak chai pi lenge!" </p><p>Covid waves 2 and 3 notwithstanding, I don't believe this trend will change. And marketers must wise up to this, else they will continue to flood the shelves with innovations only to take back stocks a few months later. </p><p>What we Indians are happy to do is to lean on nutritional supplements as an addition to our daily regimen. According to a BCG Covid 19 consumer sentiment survey, the demand for nutritional supplements has increased almost 30% in the post covid era. Amway's nutrition category reported a 13% growth. Google Trends shows interest in Vitamin D doubled in the period May to July 2020 vs Jan to Mar 2020. Then went down again as Covid news started abating in Q4 2020. And now with the second wave hitting us suddenly, Vitamin D searches are up again, although lower than last year's peaks. </p><p> </p><p><strong><u>The rapid growth of both the 'Healthy' and 'Unhealthy'!</u></strong></p><p>It is ironic that shifting consumer behavior is driving rapid growth at both ends. While the market is seeing rapid growth in the immunity category, equally there is comfort in small treats. Biscuits growth has doubled from ~7% pre-Covid to ~15% post-Covid as per an industry report, driven by the top end, especially cookies as much as growth in the economy segment. Mondelez announced its expansion into the biscuits segment during Covid times. Britannia announced 1000Cr+ investment in greenfield facilities to expand production of core, and make increased investments in top end innovations. Maggi saw growth of over 10%. That's because it's human nature to seek comfort in small treats when life is otherwise so gloomy.</p><p>Besides money unspent on holidays or big durables - is seen as an easy cache to dip into for higher expenditure on packaged treats. ITC foods for example is innovating rapidly on bringing restaurant-like experiences home. My own pantry is now packed with more chocolate, ships, ice cream, pancakes mixture, Maggi, Doritos and Kurkure than ever before. I don't want a haldi ice cream or a kadha tasting bread. When I want a treat, I want an escape to unadulterated, indulgent, ecstatic joy for those few moments. In fact, this is a great opportunity for a brand to go <em>zig</em> when everyone is going <em>zag</em> - a range of goodies that only and only seduce the taste buds with the unabashed promise of '100% joyful taste with zero intrusive health-ies to spoil the party". Who dares?</p><p> </p><p><strong><u>The Marketer's Challenge today</u></strong></p><p>Even while we marketers continue to flood the market with immunity promises, the truth is that this space is now so cluttered with such high decibel levels, that no one knows who's lying and who's not. How pure is this really? Does it really have all the goodies it claims on packaging? Will this really be good for me? We've seen big brands with big celebrities falter to Covid even with clinical trials on their side. The challenge with a food product is that there is no concrete proof of efficacy one can offer - how can I as a marketer prove to you this is probiotic, that this really helps gut health, that this indeed delivers more Vitamin power than anything else in the category and so on. This requires more than fancy packaging, more than ads on prime time TV or big celebrities. It needs a long-term relationship building approach with a comprehensive program that educates, informs and takes the consumer along. Some solutions could be co-opting the consumer's help to build the product, or inviting consumers to factories or labs, creating a ton of educational content. All such initiatives take time, effort, hard work and creativity - not necessarily money.</p><p> </p>