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Younger Consumers Are More Health Conscious Than Previous Generations

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When it comes to health matters, people seem to become more proactive than they used to be, according to surveys. While professional healthcare is generally still practiced in response to disease, an increasing interest in preventive measures shows a shift in awareness and behavior, especially among the young.

Millennials in particular - those who came of age at the turn the century - are leading the charge by making health-promoting diet and lifestyle choices a priority, as recent studies indicate.

Today's younger consumers are the most willing to take initiative on behalf of their well-being, and they are prepared to pay premium prices if necessary to achieve their goals, a report on global health and wellness by Nielsen, a New York-based international marketing research company, concludes.

But also aging baby boomers - those born between 1946 and 1964 - seem to become more engaged in their quest for good health, active retirement, longevity and independence. Especially those with better education and higher disposable income can be extra discerning in their choices. In response, services with focus on "healthy aging" have already turned into one of the fastest growing healthcare sectors today.

Individuals, regardless of age, who wish to lead a wellness-oriented lifestyle care most about issues of nutrition, fitness, work-related stress and the environment, research on "health-conscious consumer profiles" found. They accept personal responsibility but also influence how respective market forces respond to their interests and needs.

There are tremendous opportunities for food manufacturers and retailers to get in front of this health-oriented movement by providing products and services their clientele wants, says Susan Dunn, president of consumer products research at Nielsen.

"While diet fads come and go over time, innovative, back-to-basics foods that taste good, are easy to prepare and provide healthful benefits will have staying power," she predicts.

We should look at these developments as progress, says Laurie Demeritt, C.E.O. of the Hartmann Group, a marketing firm specializing in research for the food industry.

Today's informed consumers are no longer in a purely reactive mode when it comes to their health needs. They are proactive, even progressive in their approaches, Ms. Demeritt explains. Through their personal choices and preferences, they can influence and redefine the existing food culture around them, even impact the larger social and cultural environment they live in.

Food manufacturers and restaurant operators are well advised to take these trends seriously and react accordingly. That means that many of the traditional marketing strategies of these industries may quickly turn obsolete and inapplicable. The winners will be brands that adapt best to these ever-changing realities, she says.

Whether we are witnessing a short-lived phenomenon or a lasting transformational process in all this remains to be seen. However, as we have seen many times in the past, large-scale changes in consumer behavior do eventually make a difference that cannot and will not be ignored. In this case, there could be an almost perfect win-win outcome.

Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.