Not so long ago, people just wanted more control over their health. At some point in the 2000s, The Hartman Group’s research shows, that desire broadened to include other quality-of-life markers such as celebration, fun and emotional and spiritual balance. Our new analysis, A Culture of Wellness, makes clear that the drive toward health and wellness is now fully ingrained in consumers’ daily lives. The goal of having a long, healthy, balanced life has become part of the culture rather than a lifestyle choice or an alternative movement.
Today, “feeling well” is driven by a host of practices: Being active (which goes beyond “exercise”), staying connected (to places and people), resting well and eating fresh, delicious food that supports and is supported by good digestion. All of these practices are self-managed, and well-being is self-assessed. People think of feeling well in terms of having “balanced energy,” a phrase that once narrowly connoted new-age spirituality. It has gone mainstream as a way for consumers to think about their day-to-day well-being.
For 25 years, The Hartman Group has applied innovative techniques from the social sciences to explore health and wellness in the United States and to illuminate emerging opportunities for marketing health and wellness solutions to consumers. Our pioneering studies describe the desire among U.S. consumers to regain control of personal and household health, as well as the transformation in the scope of health and wellness itself and its role within culture.
Our methods and frameworks have therefore extended beyond a conventional “consumer-centric” lens to embrace a cultural perspective. In our most recent update, A Culture of Wellness report, we revisit the consumer state of health and wellness and leverage our previous work to deliver an evidence-driven, provocative, big-picture assessment of where health and wellness is today, where it’s going, and what it all means.
Here are several aspects of the current culture of wellness:
Wellness Food Trends: Consumers continue to seek fresh foods with less processing, a notion whose meaning shifts but which generally favors food with known origins—often food with a story. Shoppers also think much more about the immediate effects of how food makes them feel physically and otherwise, a key component of a growing trend toward self-diagnosis and -assessment. They also think more about "food systems," including where food comes from and how it is produced, as part of a broader vision of health and wellness that incorporates consideration of their communities as well as themselves and their families.
Wellness at Retail: Whereas our earlier studies (notably encompassing the recent recession) showed increased health and wellness purchases in mass discount, dollar and grocery at the expense of specialized health and wellness channels, the new study shows a return of some business to the specialty channel. At the same time, consumers now buy health and wellness products and brands wherever they shop, largely because more products and brands are available for broad distribution.
Wellness in Food service and Restaurants: While consumers often associate eating out with eating less healthy, food service also provides a context for experimenting with different approaches to eating, from vegan to raw to still-nascent ethnic foods. As consumers outsource more of their cooking to food service and restaurants, they seek healthier options for everyday eating. Fun and enjoyment are intertwined with wellness goals, leaving room for indulgent experiences to be perceived as healthy.
Health Management: Weight is still top-of-mind but no longer central to consumers’ thoughts on health and well-being. Digestion and energy have gained salience, and people’s self-diagnoses are often conditioned by what they see in others. For example, because diabetes has gained exposure across social networks, younger consumers now think about diabetes prevention. People also continue to seek food-based approaches to getting the appropriate vitamins and nutrients in their diets.
For more information, download an overview of A Culture of Wellness, which includes a table of contents, executive summary, and pricing information.
As leaders in the study of American food culture, The Hartman Group has been tracking how Americans shop for food since the 1990s. From one-stop shopping to multichannel shopping to online markets and click-and-collect, we continue to track consumers’ evolving perceptions, needs, habits and relationships with food retailers. New to the 2017 report is a special section on the expansion of the discount grocery channel, the emerging fresh-format channel and smaller-footprint retail formats.