Consumers around the world are focusing more and more on their health. Food has become a way of life our research data shows: 63% of consumers look for food tailored to their individual lifestyles. People are after foods that boost the immune system (67%), foods that deliver on mental health (63%) and opt for local foods because it is perceived to be better for consumers’ health (58%).
How should you respond to that trend? Taste Tomorrow sat down with Naomi Jansen, developer of chocolates with a healthy message and founder of the Food Pharmacy design agency. Her goal? To help people make the connection between food and health. Naomi creates regional concepts that encourage positive behavioral change towards healthy eating. We challenged her to think big: how can the food industry make a difference?
What does a healthy lifestyle look like to you? How do you encourage better choices?
I believe our surroundings are the key to making healthier choices. Here's a simple example: if you have a lot of unhealthy food at home, you'll be more inclined to choose an unhealthy snack instead of a nutritious one, like whole grain bread or fruit. At Food Pharmacy, we develop concepts that make our surroundings healthier, while also improving people’s health awareness. Because before you make a change, you have to be both aware and open to it. If you, as a consumer, understand why a healthier choice is better for you, and if your surroundings are encouraging you to make those healthy choices, that will lead to structural behavioral change.
Do you have an example of a concept that intentionally ‘healthifies’ our surroundings?
Right now I'm working in the Dutch city of Amersfoort to build connections between several different industries to create awareness and make the entire lived environment healthier. I'm bringing together companies and organizations that aren’t in touch on a daily basis, like pharmacists and GPs versus farmers and supermarkets, but other entities like local governments and schools, as well. Together, we’re looking for ways to answer the same big question: how can we help people make healthier choices? At the moment, we're running a pilot with a pharmacy where they provide lifestyle advice alongside medication and refer people to the local greengrocer. It’s a small-scale change to an existing system that leads to a greater focus on health at a preventive level.
Creating awareness is a fairly abstract concept. How do you start the process?
The most important thing is to work with your target group. Get to know them and empathize with their needs. Make sure you’re starting the discussion on the same level. What do they need? What problems are they experiencing? How do they want to receive information? Seek out your target group and enter into a dialogue. Do that in the initial phase. That will allow you to test ideas directly with your target group. It also allows you to learn and get immediate feedback, and you can always make adjustments to optimize the process. As you experiment, the design becomes more and more in sync with the target group and their surroundings.
There is no revenue model underpinning a lot of the Food Pharmacy’s subsidized initiatives. But that would obviously be an issue for major players like supermarket chains. What's your advice on how they can help create a healthier environment for their customers?
Creating the right environment is very important. For example, the way a supermarket positions and advertises their products largely determines the consumer's choices. A study by research firm Questionmark shows that 82% of Dutch supermarket sales are unhealthy. That doesn’t make it easy for consumers to make a healthy choice. The question is, are retailers open to a different approach? They may need to enter into a dialogue with the government, because as long as healthy food is still more expensive than unhealthy food, it will always be an uphill battle.
Do you have practical tips or ideas for supermarkets?
Supermarkets can help their customers make the right choices. For instance, organizing a healthy supermarket safari, creating healthy routing, through storytelling or by collaborating with someone like a local dietician or lifestyle coach. Look beyond your existing suppliers and partners, talk to a researcher or physician. How can you make the connection between health and nutrition? How do you build on each other’s strengths? Create a common issue to tackle and challenge each other to make a long-term difference together.
In Amersfoort, for example, we are currently in talks with a local supermarket. We want to set up a 'healthy shelf' with a healthcare provider (dietician). I think it would be so interesting to see what a healthy shelf might look like! What products will it feature? How can we communicate the health benefits? And can we make these products accessible to people who have less money to spend or who have underdeveloped health skills?
How do you affect change on a large scale?
I can imagine that, as a big player in the market, it might be difficult to bring about change. So my advice would be to start small. Start with just a few stores, departments, or locations. A small pilot also means less risk. As a supermarket chain, you can test and experiment in a handful of locations. If it’s successful, you'll already have the evidence you need for a broader rollout. That allows you to practice on a small scale and builds credibility with other stakeholders.
How can industrial bakeries make a connection between their products and a healthy lifestyle?
When it comes to healthy eating, there’s a lot of misinformation about bread. As a producer, I feel like that’s a difficult thing to grapple with. I would tackle the root cause: how can you change the image of bread? In the Netherlands, bread isn’t just for lunch anymore. It’s a healthy snack, a side dish, an appetizer, or an hors d'oeuvre to enjoy with drinks. Alongside highlighting those specific moments, you can also focus on how we eat bread. What do you put on your sandwiches and what kind of impact can that have on health? As an industrial bakery, you can also provide inspiration that can help change bread’s image with things like tips, insights, or recipes. Look beyond your product groups, zoom out and try to see bread as part of the bigger picture. Storytelling is also an important part of reframing public opinion. Tell the story and be transparent about the ingredients and origins of your products.
What are the most important steps to take when developing a new concept?
The most important thing is the target group. Make them part of your process. Remember who you are doing it for and how to get them on board. For example, not everyone wants to go all-in on a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes we just need to focus on awareness and providing healthy options. As a supermarket, you obviously want to sell your donuts and croissants, too. But make sure they're balanced with nutritious alternatives. And advertise your whole grain bread and healthy snacks. There's no reason that healthy and unhealthy options can’t coexist peacefully. They don't have to be mutually exclusive, as long as there’s balance and you communicate sensible choices clearly.
You might also be interested in Chocobombes, chocolates that Naomi designed specifically for pregnant women. Discover the story of this tantalizing chocolate gift and conversation starter about healthy food in one.