Consumer confusion is often cited as the biggest barrier to success in the commercial market for new functional products and ingredients.
Survey after survey reports consumers confused by floods of new claims and conflicting messages about what is or is not healthy.
Trust me, I’m a supplement maker…
But the situation is worse than that. Consumers don’t trust the industry and in many countries a growing number of consumers find it hard to understand the relevance of supplements.
Each year, Vitafoods gives us three days filled with advances in science, effective bioactives, exciting claims and bright commercial prospects. And that is what is reported each year.
But what you didn’t see or hear (much of) at Vitafoods is the dark truth about the state of the consumer market: Whatever you say and whatever you claim the chances are very high that consumers won’t trust you. And if consumers don’t trust they will not purchase.
A recent US study stated that only one third of consumers rated the supplement industry as trustworthy. A European study showed similar figures for consumer confidence in the food industry as a source of information. And in Latin America we have seen industry research showing a growing number of consumers who find it hard to see the relevance of supplements.
So what remedies do you have? Approved health claims? Well, a 2014 study by New Nutrition Business on failures in functional foods concluded that the number one reason for failure was over-reliance on health claims.
The question about what generates purchases can be answered with one word: brand trust. The same US study cited above showed that 'Brand Reputation' was the number three purchase driver after 'Quality Ingredients' and 'Recommended by trusted sources' (which both are part of the 'Brand Trust'). Another proprietary study in purchase drivers put 'Works better than other brands' and 'A Brand For Me', as the top purchase drivers before all other aspects.
Moreover a premium brand has double the trust of a value brand, so by discounting you are not only losing money – you lose brand equity as well.
Brand trust is coming back again and again as the key for commercial success and this is also supported by social sciences where trust is understood as a social mechanism for reducing complexity and how trust increases the tolerance of uncertainty. So if consumers are confused then they will put their trust in your brand to help them navigate and make choices. But if you don’t trust your brand to be more important than health claims, why should the consumer?
Together with the Masters Program in Applied Cultural Analysis at Lund and Copenhagen Universities we have conducted a series of research projects on what creates purchase of healthy products in different consumer groups. The key insight from these projects across all ages, genders and geographies is that Brand Trust meaning
a 'Brand for Me' is the key for purchase and long term success.
This was elegantly summarised in our latest research project on Healthy Ageing, where it was concluded that a successful brand shouldn’t “offer me Solutions, it should be my Supporter.”
This means a consumer-centric rather than product-centric approach. That – we didn’t see much of at Vitafoods.
Peter Wennström is the founder & expert consultant of Healthy Food Marketing.