Health food innovation – How to assess success?

Consumers today, do want to lead healthy lifestyles. You see evidence of this, with the growth of fitness centres. not just in the developing world, but in the developed world too. With food too, you see the same growth. Supermarket shelves are filled with health food innovations, with claims like ‘low fat’, ‘high fiber’, ‘low sugar’, ‘lowers cholesterol’ and more. In recent years, the number of health food stores; and stores selling fitness food and beverages has quadrupled, both onsite and online.  This really tells you, that there is a big explosion taking place in the health food innovation space. Truly, the opportunity in this space is amazing. But, do all health food innovations succeed?

To evaluate success of health food innovations, I looked at healthier products in supermarkets, that have been in existence in the main stream market for a while. I also looked closely at health food stores and their best-selling products. Based on my review, following is an overview of some of the attributes of successful health food innovations:

1) Niche Products – Marketing efforts focused on communicating and engaging with a target group of consumers. Strong connection resulted in a better consumer understanding of the product, and increased confidence in the product. Also, there was a willingness to make small compromises in taste; and pay a higher price.

2) Efficacious products – Product use resulted in many positive testimonials. With real stories, consumers were motivated to consume the product regularly, and recommend it to others too.

3) Nutritious products – Product was truly nutritious. Negative nutrient profile was perfect. Daily intake was advised. Daily intake translated to daily sales. And as people realized daily intake benefit, they recommended it to others too.

What really stands out here, is that when a product benefit is understood, it works effectively, and the experience is positive, people make product consumption a habit. And they encourage others to try the health food too. And that is when market success happens! 

In case of products that failed, it was determined that the health food product was superficially “healthier”, that is:

1) It was not a truly nutritious product. Daily consumption was not feasible, as the product was just a healthier treat food.

2) True efficacy was questionable. So, getting testimonials of positive experiences was a challenge.

3). The benefit story was limited. Consumer engagement was limited, as no real benefits could be highlighted. And this had adverse implications on re-purchase and product referrals in the onsite world. It also had a major impact on sales in the online world, as consumer discussions on product benefits were non-existent.

Interestingly, many of the right boxes seemed to have been ticked during the innovation process for these failed products. That is, price was right, taste was perfect, and there were some claims on pack. But somehow, to get everything right, true product nutrition value and health benefit had been compromised.

Photo by Brands&People on Unsplash

Based on my findings, and experience with supporting health food innovations for many years, I have come up with 4 key nutrition questions to help you assess opportunity for and success-rate of health food innovations. Follow the sequence and respond to one question at a time. By the time you are done with all 4 questions, you probably will know whether your health food innovation is a ‘go’ or ‘no-go’.

  1. Can the health food innovation solve a specific problem?

If you are mulling over a health food innovation, step back and ask yourself ‘what nutrition or health-related problem can this product solve?’.

In case of a health food innovation, some potential problems the product could solve include:

  1. A deficiency of a nutrient or food group;
  2. A specific benefit e.g., anti-inflammatory properties, or blood sugar reduction;
  3. Risk reduction e.g., reduction in risk of osteoporosis;
  4. The need for wholesome convenience – due to lack of time or being on-the-go.

IN CASE OF HEALTH FOOD INNOVATIONS, THE FIRST QUESTION YOU NEED TO ASK IS, ‘WHAT NUTRITION OR HEALTH-RELATED PROBLEM CAN THIS PRODUCT SOLVE?

If the product can effectively solve a problem, e.g., a deficiency and it is a truly healthy product (provides minimal fat, saturated fat, sodium or sugar) that can be consumed daily, you can move to the next question. This product is likely to give you an efficacy story or testimonial to engage with your consumers. Also, if you are evaluating cost at this time, remember that even if the product is niche, this product will be consumed daily, so sales volumes will not be that low.

  1. Does a solution to the problem exist? If yes, how effective is / are the current solutions for your consumer, and is your product truly differentiated vs. the current product solution? 

Once you have identified the problem that your product can solve, you need to look at the competition in your problem space, to assess opportunity in that problem space.

If you look at the problem of calcium deficiency for example. Milk is a perfect solution, but it may not be an effective solution for everyone, for three reasons:

  1. Some people may be lactose intolerant
  2. Others may be vegans
  3. Or consumers may find it difficult to drink milk 2 to 3 times a day, to meet the daily 800mg to 1000mg calcium goal.

Situation one creates an opportunity for lactose-free milk or yogurt. Situations one and two create an opportunity for calcium-fortified milk alternatives like almond milk, oat milk, soy milk; or even products made from them. Unfortunately, while soy milk today is fortified with calcium, vitamin D is missing; and other milk alternatives are not fortified with calcium and vitamin D.

Situation three creates an opportunity for calcium-fortified milk and milk products like cheese & yogurt; or milk alternatives, wherein just two glasses of a beverage, two cups of yogurt, or two slices of cheese provide the daily recommendation of 800mg to 1000mg of calcium. Addition of vitamins D and K2 to support absorption of calcium, can support differentiation.

A calcium supplement with vitamins D and K2 are also a good product option for all three situations. The only downside with complete dependence on a supplement, is that vegetarians and vegans may miss out on protein in milk and some milk alternatives; and vitamin B12 in milk and milk products. A fortified nutrition shake with all these nutrients, may be a better option, if an individual wants to depend on a supplement alone, instead of a combination of soy milk and a calcium plus vitamins D and K2 supplement.

From a protocol stand-point, your health food innovation must be truly differentiated versus the competition. For this, you need to check what’s out there in your problem area first, and then look for the white space that your product can fit into. And finally, you need to create a differentiated product versus the competition in this space.

To differentiate your product versus the competition, consider one or more of the following initiatives:

1) Novel technology or process, that others cannot replicate easily.

2) A unique bundle of nutrients and or ingredients, that has been researched for efficacy. Some examples include addition of pre and probiotics to a milk alternative; or you could create a bone-building nutrition bundle with vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin K2, calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and selenium, and fortify a product with them, for additional differentiation.

3) A new approach to selling the product. Product aside, you could also look at a whole new sales approach to the calcium deficiency problem. You could consider a weekly subscription box with 14– 200mg calcium supplements in a chocolate format, or 14 cups of yogurt in different flavors to help millennial’s living on their own meet their daily calcium goals. Or, you could start a weekly delivery of high-calcium milk alternatives to offices, to help office goers meet their calcium goals at work? Or you could install a vending machine that offers high-calcium milk alternatives in office buildings or university campuses?

IN CASE OF HEALTH FOOD INNOVATIONS, DIFFERENTIATION VS. THE COMPETITION IS POSSIBLE WITH A NEW TECHNOLOGY OR PROCESS, NEW NUTRIENT-INGREDIENT COMBINATIONS, OR A NEW SALES APPROACH TO AN EXISTING PROBLEM. 

  1. What can you say about the health food innovation, to keep consumers connected and engaged through the product life cycle?

Once you have defined the health food innovation nutrition profile, unique manufacturing technology or process, and or a novel approach to selling the product, list down the products USP or unique selling points.

A health food innovations USP or Unique Selling Point could include one or more of the following attributes:

1) Nutritionally-sound regulatory approved on pack claims, and communication messages that can be used onsite and online. Include all claims – content claims, functional claims and disease risk reduction claims. Also, think of potential communication messages you could use on different social media platforms. The key caveat here, is that all claims and communication messages that will go on pack and on your website and other social media platforms, must be nutritionally sound and regulatory-approved, as local regulatory and legal authorities usually check all claims and communication messages for regulatory compliance.

2) Potential product linked testimonials from consumers. Think of product efficacy, and potential testimonials and list them here. 

3) Unique technology or manufacturing process story. 

4) Products ability to support healthy recipes and meal plans.

5) Stories about sustain-ably grown ingredients.

Once you have compiled the list of USPs, step back and look at whether you have strong USPs vs. the competition. If the answer is yes, move forward.

FOR HEALTH FOOD MARKET OPPORTUNITY ASSESSMENT, COMPARE THE PRODUCTS USPs I.E., UNIQUE PRODUCT TECHNOLOGY OR PROCESS, PRODUCT CLAIMS AND COMMUNICATION MESSAGES, POTENTIAL TESTIMONIAL MESSAGING, POTENTIAL FOR RECIPE DEVELOPMENT AND OTHER UNIQUE STORIES vs. THE COMPETITIONS PRODUCT USPs. 

  1. Does your health food innovation’s USP and price point work with consumers?

Once you have defined the health food innovation profile, marketing and sales strategy, claims and communication messages, it is time for you to draft concepts and test the concepts with your target consumers. During concept testing, it is important to determine whether the product developer can deliver the nutrient and or ingredient levels you need to support all claims, at the designated price point. A winning healthy food product and concepts is a definite ‘go’, if the price is right.

It is important to note here though, that if price is a challenge and you have to compromise product goodness and claims, you may want to revisit the concept and test it again with target consumers, as tweaking the product without reconfirming consumer acceptance, is likely to give you an inaccurate concept read. Basically, you won’t get an accurate read on the potential success rate of the healthy food product in the market place.

ASSESS PRODUCT PRICE FEASIBILITY AT CONCEPT STAGE. IF PRICE IS A CHALLENGE AND YOU HAVE TO COMPROMISE PRODUCT GOODNESS AND CLAIMS, YOU SHOULD REVISIT THE CONCEPT AND TEST IT AGAIN, FOR AN ACCURATE CONCEPT READ. 

At this stage, also assess claim-ability for markets you plan to expand to in future. Chalk out a chassis with claim lists to understand global expansion potential. Work closely with your nutrition, regulatory and legal teams for this. This will help you determine, if the same product has the potential to expand to other markets. If product tweaking is required, it should work for new and current markets. Its good to assess this potential in the concept phase, before product development, so that you can develop a product that has the right to succeed in multiple markets.

In Summary

Health food innovation is not easy – as many consumers are fence sitters, i.e., they want healthy, but they are not willing to give up taste or even pay more for better health. But with the right product that can solve a problem effectively; strong claims, communication messages and talking points; and an acceptable price point from ground up, you can steer consumers in the right direction and set yourself up for success in the health food aisle space. In the online world, consumer testimonials can drive sales, so it is important to create a truly efficacious product with benefits that consumers experience! Good luck with your health food innovation.

VeVeva Nutrition Pte Ltd established in 2019, is a nutrition consultancy for the food and beverage industry, individuals and groups. We provide holistic nutrition consultancy for innovations, communications and product promotions, from concept to launch. For more information, email: yashna.harjani@vevevanutrition.com.

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