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20 July, 2018 Feature Articles

Healthy Eating Trends in Europe

Healthy Eating Trends in Europe

Livio Martucci of IRI International, looks at the healthy eating trends across seven European countries.

Livio Martucci is Global Analytics and Shopper Director at IRI International where he helps leading retailers and food manufacturers to understand their consumers and growth opportunities through the application of data intelligence.

In recent years there has been an overall growth in demand for “healthy” food and drink products.  In some cases, items that a consumer perceives as healthy might be at odds with the reality, but what we can say for sure is that there is certainly an interest in trying to eat better. A recent survey by IRI International, revealed that two-thirds (70%) of people across Europe are buying healthy food -  with less salt, sugar, fat or calories.  This is an increase of 41% in just three years.

One of the reasons for this is simply more awareness about the role that food plays in health and wellness.  This is thanks to the media in general and social media in particular, which can ignite interest in food fads very rapidly, for example avocado and coconut oil which have become very popular due to promotion by celebrities in social media.  In recently times there have also been some high-profile incidents that raise questions about the safety of the food chain, and so more people are also paying attention to the quality of the food that they eat.  

In this article we will look in more detail at the findings of the IRI research, which was conducted among shoppers in seven European countries (Italy, Greece, Spain, Germany, France, the UK and Holland) about their attitudes and purchase behaviour around wellness foods. 

Motivations for Healthier Eating

In addition to general healthy food, the categories that were looked included free-from, organic and vegetarian foods.  The penetration levels of each category are already significant with organic food bought by 53% and vegetarian food bought by 39% of Europeans. 

Whilst choosing these first three types of wellness food are down purely to personal choice, intolerance or free-from foods were originally developed to fulfill dietary need.  A category which barely even existed just a few years ago, those foods that are free from things like lactose, gluten and yeast are now purchased by 33% of households across Europe. This figure is well in excess of estimates for people who suffer from food intolerance so it’s clear that this category is driven by choice as well as need.

The research revealed that half of Europeans are actively seeking some wellness benefits from the food that they purchase while 15% have health problems related to nutrition.  Other reasons to buy wellness foods included seeking something that is additive free (34%) and to protect the environment (22%). 

With obesity becoming a key challenge for health across Europe, it is encouraging to see that one in four shoppers (26%) are eating more healthily because they want to achieve weight loss. Spanish and Dutch shoppers are more driven by the need to lose weight in their healthy eating habits than any other country. It is perhaps surprising not to see more German or British shoppers driven by weight loss given that these countries rank among the highest in the list of European countries more than half of the population being overweight (Eurostat research from 2014). 

Growth in Healthy Eating

Across all four types of wellness food, shoppers are buying more now compared to 2-3 years ago, healthy food had increased by 41%, organic by a third (34%) and vegetarian and free-from foods by a quarter (26% and 24% respectively).
What’s more interesting though is that this sector still has far to go.  When asked in the next six months whether they intended to spend more, just under a fifth were going to increase their spend across the four different categories.

Generational Differences

There are differing motivations amongst the generations in terms of why they are seeking healthier foods, and these reasons are cumulatively driving the overall increase.  In terms of the ageing population across Europe, health naturally becomes a focus and reason for taking more care of what is consumed.

At the other end of the spectrum, we see a clear focus on health for the Millennials.  This group purchased more across all four groups.  Healthy foods in general have the highest audience, with 78% of Millennials purchasing them – eight percentage points more than the total market.  The biggest difference between this group compared to others though is vegetarian foods, which is purchased by over half of the Millennials surveyed (54%), which is 15% higher than the total market. What is clear from the results of this study is that the Millennial audience is a key one to target in the future.

How to be Healthier

In terms of what it takes to be healthy, a majority of people (60%) believe you can achieve a healthy diet by eating more fruit and vegetables.  The next most important tools to use are being more aware of what you’re buying with 29% mentioning dedicating enough time to read the ingredient list and 26% checking the nutritional fact labels.

Wellness foods are mainly sought out in supermarkets and hypermarkets, followed by bio or health-food stores.  Online stores are well positioned as alternative places to buy healthy products, offering an opportunity to improve penetration and spending for online retailers.
The Future for Wellness Foods

Wellness foods are clearly not the concern of just a niche group of people as they might once have been, with a small selection tucked away at the back of the supermarket. There is a huge opportunity here for manufacturers and retailers alike to tap into the growth potential across the wellness foods sector.
For manufacturers there are two ways that they can do this. Firstly, by working on the communications around their existing products, to play up their health credentials and make labelling clear and impactful.  Secondly there is room to innovate with new, healthier versions of well-loved product lines.  For retailers, helping shoppers to find and navigate the healthier product offerings and motivating them to choose them are the ways they can make the most of this opportunity.
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