Are Healthy Thinkers also Healthy Shoppers

Are Healthy Thinkers also Healthy Shoppers


Steve French, Managing Partner, Natural Marketing Institute &

Todd Hale, Senior Vice President, Consumer & Shopper Insights, The Nielsen Company

SUMMARY: Consumers recognize the connection between diet and health, and for the most part, act on that knowledge. Perhaps a by-product of their quest for wellness, health-aware consumers are careful with their bodies and their budgets, making fewer impulse buys, using shopping lists, savoring the shopping outing and efficiently walking the aisles with a connoisseurs’ knowledge of merchandising and planograms.

Americans have gotten the message loud and clear: a healthy diet is an essential element in any wellness program. Nielsen researchers found that people practice what they preach, with most shoppers buying foods that are good for the waistline and wallet.

Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) conducts an annual health and wellness survey to determine what consumers consider healthy. Shopper insights showed consumer interest in minimally processed foods, a short list of recognizable label ingredients, less of the “bad stuff” like trans fats or MSG, and more of the “good stuff” like fiber, antioxidants, vitamins/minerals, calcium, Omega 3s, whole grains, heart-healthy ingredients and Vitamin D.

Healthy Segments

When it comes to health beliefs and practices, NMI found that people fit into one of five distinct segments that inform their shopping and buying decisions:

  • “WELL BEINGS”® (19%)—the most health-proactive group; market leaders and influencers whose actions are driven by values. They eat more organics, consume modest amounts of supplements and pursue many different health modalities.
  • “FOOD ACTIVES”® (18%)—more mainstream in their health pursuits, this group strives for moderation in their lifestyle and prefers food that is inherently healthy vs. organics or supplements. Seeking a life balance includes balancing the budget for this price-sensitive segment.
  • “MAGIC BULLETS“® (24%)—consumers who hope supplements, Rx and pills will help them reach health goals. More into health management than prevention. Least likely to cook at home or exercise.
  • “FENCE SITTERS”® (17%)—stressed out, but seeking control. They dabble in the latest exercise kick and actively pursue weight loss goals. Receptive to eco-friendly appeals and reliant on social media.
  • “EAT, DRINK & BE MERRYS”® (22%)—younger shoppers who crave taste and pinch pennies. No concerns here about prevention, making them the least health-active group.

Big Spenders

According to Nielsen, healthier segments (“WELL BEINGS,” “FOOD ACTIVES,” and “MAGIC BULLETS”) appear more thoughtful about food, beginning with the shopping experience. In addition to shopping more often online than less wellness-oriented groups, they log more shopping trips per household each year, spend more in total annually and have a tendency to buy more on deal.


Preferred channels include grocery stores, which offer the widest variety of fresh and organic products; drug stores, where they can find a cure for what ails them plus supplements to round out their diet; and warehouse club stores known for outstanding value but limited offerings on the food and drug fronts. Health-oriented shoppers are least likely to patronize supercenters, mass merchandisers, convenience/gas stores and dollar stores.

Grocery spending patterns reflect an emphasis on formats that have made a name based on their produce and fresh departments, tasty samples, customer service and client education ranging from proprietary health labeling systems to in-store seminars and demonstrations.

Hidden Vices

Despite a commitment to health and wellness, the occasional indulgence sneaks in. Even health-aware shoppers like an alcoholic beverage now and then, with “WELL BEINGS” and “MAGIC BULLETS” outspending other segments at liquor stores.

While this quirk may be explained away by the cardiovascular benefits of red wine or simply a propensity to entertain, the penchant for smoking is puzzling (perhaps a vice of a spouse or other family member who is not as engaged in leading a healthy lifestyle). “FOOD ACTIVES” and “MAGIC BULLETS” trail only the “EAT, DRINK & BE MERRYS” in tobacco store spending.

Buying Right

Category spending patterns underscore the consistency between the health beliefs that define each segment and spending practices. The three most health-committed segments (“WELL BEINGS,” “FOOD ACTIVES” and “MAGIC BULLETS”) outspend others in categories with foods known for health properties including nuts, yogurt, fresh produce and vitamins.


Equally consistent with healthy attitudes, the three most health-aware groups under-spend relative to other segments in calorie-dense, lower-nutrient foods and beverages such as carbonated beverages, beer and frozen pizza and snacks.

Savvy Shoppers

Part of being health-aware is conscious consumption, and health-active segments are educated shoppers who report enjoying the shopping experience and really knowing the layout of their stores. They don’t need to waste time going up and down the aisles aimlessly browsing. Instead, they use store circulars to identify bargains, bring along or download coupons on their computers or cell phones, and try to stick to their shopping list on most trips. Health-smart segments rely on cookbooks, the Internet and TV cooking shows for meal planning inspiration.

These patterns stand in stark contrast to “FENCE SITTERS” and “EAT, DRINK & BE MERRYS” who abhor shopping lists and coupons and are big on impulse buys, reporting unplanned purchases on most shopping trips.

Eating Well

WELL BEINGS believe in wellness and eating well, from storefront to tabletop. This segment spends more time than any other in meal preparation (more than 30 minutes on average) and craves variety, alternating between a menu of more than 16 dinner recipes vs. the 10 of most other segments. “WELL BEINGS” think ahead about meal planning to achieve their nutrition and budget goals, rather than take their dining inspiration from aisle prompts.

“EAT, DRINK & BE MERRYS” sit at the opposite end of the health and wellness spectrum from “WELL BEINGS” in almost every dimension of cooking: preparing scratch meals, using the most ingredients, barbecuing, baking/microwaving frozen foods, reheating leftovers and serving store-bought meals.

Coping strategies

Even in tough economic times, “WELL BEINGS” have adopted coping strategies that allow them to remain true to their wellness predilections. They focus on more basic ingredients, buy produce in season, make coffee at home, consumer desserts less often, prepare large batches for the week and serve healthier meals.

Thought leaders and trend setters, “WELL BEINGS” represent a high-value segment with big spending habits, particularly in better-for-you categories. The right product assortment and messaging can engage these consumers, while coupons will close the deal. Given their tendency to plan ahead and shop the Internet, providing printable on-line shopping lists with prominent store branding is an inexpensive marketing tool and added value convenience.

Winning Ways

Look to the wine category as a way to win over “WELL BEINGS” and extend it with strategic pairings throughout the store. Consider in-store and on-line cooking classes and demonstrations to move featured products and motivate them to return to your store.

Promotional ideas that would resonate with these shoppers include special offers on store-branded cookware and utensils, recipe storage containers, proprietary on-line recipes, an extensive cookbook and cooking magazine section in the store and even a fresh food buying rewards program. Where “WELL BEINGS” lead a healthy lifestyle, other segments also represent opportunities, By further understanding segment shopping habits, you can capture consumers for life!