By Lanre Odusile
Consumers are increasingly interested in living wellness oriented lifestyles. This entails their being particularly conscious of what they put in their bodies- what they consume. This consciousness covers their choices of food, beverages, snacks, fruits and other consumables. These consumers are closely watching calorie intake and the nutritional elements in whatever they consume. Data from Symphony Retail (a retail analytics company) show that health conscious consumers now account for 25-30% of all grocery customers in the US and Europe. A study by Food Dive, another retail research firm, shows that 65% of consumers seek functional benefits from the foods and beverages they eat, with Omega -3 fatty acids, green tea, honey, green tea, coffee, and probiotics ranking among their top five preferred ingredients.
Businesses and governments are also making the required adjustments to meet this increasing consumer demand for healthier choices. The International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity reports that the legislation in the 2010 healthcare reform bill of the US requires chain restaurants to disclose calorie information on all menu forms. This was occasioned by increased enquiries by consumers of calorie and carbohydrate content of various meals served at restaurants.
Companies have also risen to this challenge to satisfy their customers and also to partake in this ever expanding business category. For instance, health conscious consumers consider plant based foods more healthy and the market for plant based foods has grown by 11% in the last year to a value of $4.5billion, according to the Plant Based Food Association.
The case is no different in Nigeria. The recent popularity and ubiquity of companies offering healthy snacks is a clear indicator of the growing number of health conscious consumers in Nigeria. Companies in the food and beverage sector, for instance, have responded to the clamour for healthier options as people try to redress problems such as obesity (including child obesity), diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases and other ailments. This has resulted in offerings such as low sugar or zero sugar variants of some popular beverages, including carbonated drinks and fruit juices, malt drinks and even beers. These options provide alternatives to people who are consciously seeking out healthier food choices as well as others who, due to some existing health conditions, should refrain from taking the regular beverages but are unable to abstain. Also, adult consumers of combustible tobacco, particularly cigarettes, are opting for smoke-free tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, heated tobacco products (which heat up tobacco without burning), nicotine pouches, patches, and gums, and other reduced risk products. These consumers who choose to continue to enjoy tobacco products without the attendant risks from tobacco combustion, thereby mitigating any harm that would result from tobacco smoke inhalation are able to do so because of the availability of these alternative products.
Dairy makers are also not left out. Certain people experience some measure of incompatibility, (sensitivity, allergy, intolerance, etc) to dairy products. Many people develop lactose intolerance as they grow into adulthood (lactose is a main component of dairy milk). Non-dairy milk had long been an option for people with lactose intolerance who still desire to or are unable to remove milk from their diets, with such offerings as soya milk, almond milk, coconut milk, non-dairy coffee creamers and the likes.
Now dairy milk manufacturers have broadened the options as they now offer different brands of lactose-free dairy milk as well milk low in cholesterol. Interestingly, this healthier brand extension has elicited competition among popular milk brands. Again, more choices have been provided for consumers seeking healthier choices or who wish to avoid discomfort from regular offerings. Just as research has shown in the US and Europe, the demand for organic foods is also on the increase in Nigeria as health conscious consumers demand healthier foods devoid of chemical or synthetic additives or preservatives.
Nigerian consumers are also increasingly demanding fortified variants of regular food products in their quest for healthier foods. Why do these consumers choose these products? It is because they want to live healthier lives and also reduce any perceived harms that may derive from consuming the regular offerings. This practice is a form of harm reduction although in many quarters harm reduction is seen mostly from the context of drug or substance use and abuse. Harm reduction indeed should comprise the whole concept of improved health and wellness for all members of society. Harm reduction may be described as a strategy directed toward individuals or groups that aims to reduce the harms associated with certain behaviours. It also seeks to address the social and legal impacts associated with policies and laws. However, more individuals are taking up the gauntlet. As they have become more aware of product science and options for healthier living or less risky options to regular brands, they are personally opting to make the switch to their preferred options. They are choosing healthier or less risky options for products that cut across dairy, soft drinks, beers and other alcoholic beverages, tobacco, confectionaries, coffee, etc and the results can be quite significant in many cases.
Current world number one tennis player, Novak Djokovic, famously transformed from a player who would often retire mid-match into arguably the greatest tennis player in the history of men’s tennis because he discovered- perhaps fortuitously- his gluten allergy and switched to a gluten-free diet. Gluten, which is present in wheat products, was found to be harmful to him and he chose to reduce the harm by opting for gluten-free alternatives,
Harm reduction policies and practices or products are informed by a strong body of evidence, backed by science that shows product and interventions to be practical, feasible and effective in providing safer, healthier or less risky outcomes to consumers who switch to these products or adopt the lifestyle changes. However, for health conscious consumers to be able to freely make the switch to their preferred alternatives or less risky options, it is imperative that the alternative products are readily available and that national and regional laws or policies do not inhibit the rights of consumers to access these alternatives.
Odusile is a public health communication