Food for Thought – Health Has Gone Tribal – Here’s What To Expect

Health has a continuously moving focus point. In the past, health was equated with avoiding substances like fats and carbs, and this was generally considered something that worked for anyone who tried it. However, in today’s world of social media and blogging, consumers are seeking their echo chambers of health the same way they use them for lifestyles and politics. They’re finding niche or individualized plans that meet their own specific goals, as opposed to plans that work for the average person. And just like other echo chambers, oftentimes consumers follow plans promoted by bloggers rather than sound science.

This helps explain why the most common diet is one of our own making. The rules are set by ourselves to meet personal goals. It also explains why we hear about the rise of lifestyles like paleo, Whole30, and plant-based, which have some conflicting rules. But those engaged in them have found their tribe.

The internet is playing a role in driving tribalism, much as it has guided other aspects of our lives. Health professionals, friends, and family used to be our go-to sources for information on health, but the rising number of bloggers and online communities allows consumers from anywhere on the planet to find like-minded individuals. For example, nearly 60 percent of consumers who engage in clean eating research their foods online. The free flow of information has been touted as the liberating aspect of the internet – that also means bad or inaccurate information flows freely, as well. Not all bloggers and websites promote truthful information, but what they say can seem believable and repeatable. For this reason, it’s important to accept the fact that consumers will feel emotionally attached to their tribes. Challenging their beliefs with facts will not sway them to leave the tribe.

This is a very challenging environment for food and beverage marketers. It’s especially hard today to be something for everyone. The key is to show flexibility and demonstrate that your solutions can fit into myriad tribes. It’s also best to work on this now versus later. Many in our younger generations started with these tribes at a young age and will likely continue this journey as they age.

There are health needs that have appeal across the tribes, making them important to promote. We still see consumers pushing for more protein, and in some cases, plant-based sources are preferred. Sugar is still the top item we want to reduce in our diets so be sure to limit its use when appropriate. It’s as important as ever to promote your authentic and natural properties when you can and to be transparent with consumers regarding how your products are produced.

This topic and others are discussed in detail in the just-released 33rd edition of Eating Patterns in America.

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