How have consumers’ weight-management goals changed, and how can wellness brands help them?
Many people gained weight—“the COVID 15”—during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Harvard Health Publishing, 15 million patients’ electronic health records in 2021 showed that 39% gained weight (2.5 lb or more) after the pandemic began.1 So it’s somewhat surprising to hear that, three years into the pandemic, weight loss may not be consumers’ leading health concern. As it turns out, other priorities that peaked in recent years—like mental health and sleep—are in the front seat.
Eleanor Johnson, a data analyst for market researcher FMCG Gurus, says weight management ranked sixth on consumers’ list of health goals in FMCG Gurus’ Health and Wellness 2023 survey. “Our research finds that 36% of global consumers claim they want to improve their weight over the next 12 months,” she says. “This falls behind other areas of health, such as sleep health, immunity, mental well-being, and digestive health.”
Over at market research firm Murphy Research, Director of Syndicated Research Sarah Marion, PhD, sees the same. “In the context of their overall life priorities—including things like spending time with others, work-life balance, career success, etc.—consumers place a lower priority on managing weight today compared to 2019.”
Physical and mental health are bigger concerns today, Marion says. “Losing weight has become a less important priority and motivator for exercise or healthy eating than pre-pandemic. Consumers still want to lose weight, but the overall mental and physical health benefits of exercise and healthy eating have become more important, and weight loss relatively less so.” She adds: “Consumers are bringing a different mindset to weight than pre-pandemic. Fewer health-engaged consumers are exercising or improving their diets specifically to lose weight compare to pre-pandemic.”
This doesn’t mean consumers don’t want to lose weight. In fact, Johnson says FMCG Gurus’ 2023 data shows that over one-third of consumers do want to address weight loss this year. They just regard weight management differently now.
As Marion notes, “Qualitatively, consumers tell us that they are less concerned about being thin or looking a certain way than they were pre-COVID. Instead, they’re focused on more positive motivations like feeling strong, boosting energy, reducing stress, and generally feeling healthy.”
“In sum,” she concludes, “there has been a broad shift toward a mindset more focused on positive feelings and improved mental health and less focused on personal appearance and weight.”
Holistic and Positive
Consumers want to view weight management through a happier lens. “Positioning that is focused on restriction, shame, and guilt is less likely to resonate now,” Marion says. “Consumers want body positivity, affirmation, good vibes—messaging that promotes healthy choices as self-love and self-care, rather than trying to change yourself to fit a mold.”
People are likewise less interested in restrictive eating, choosing instead to focus on healthier eating, Marion says. “They have become less likely since 2019 to restrict specific ingredients—especially the big food ‘villains’—sugar, soda, fried foods, ‘bad’ fats. Interestingly, each generation has become less likely to restrict its own nutritional bogeyman. Millennials and Gen X are less likely to restrict sugar and soda. Boomers are less likely to restrict fried foods or saturated fats.”
This tracks with what FMCG Gurus sees. Johnson says FMCG data from 2021 showed that “consumers who are on diets to lose weight are taking positive steps to change their eating habits to ensure they eat a healthy and balanced diet, [and] only 22% stated they believe a diet to be sticking to a rigid diet plan.”
And of consumers who do follow a food plan like intermittent fasting, keto, WeightWatchers, Paleo, vegan, etc., “In practice, consumers use food plans/diets less as a strict set of rules and more as guidelines and suggestions that they pick and choose to develop a way of eating that works for them,” Marion notes. “This means that claims about what diets a product suits are very important. Consumers use these as a shortcut to understand if a product is right for their way of eating. They might not be strictly keto but taking a lower-carb, higher-fat/protein approach, so a keto claim on a product tells them that it suits their needs regarding macros and ingredients.”
Consumers want to incorporate healthier foods generally, instead of searching for foods claiming “weight management” specifically on the label. “In line with their positive health motivations,” Marion says, “it means they’re looking more for claims around ingredient quality, positive nutrition, and functional positives like energy or immunity boosting.”
Citing data from FMCG Gurus’ Weight Management 2021 survey, Johnson says, “Our research finds that of those consumers on a diet, the most popular step taken to lose weight was to consume more fresh food and vegetables (63%), followed by reducing the consumption of sugar (59%). From this, we can conclude that most consumers looking to lose weight do so by limiting their intake of ingredients seen as ‘bad,’ while increasing their intake of foods that are fresh and healthy.” FMCG Gurus data show that among consumers seeking ingredients they believe can help them lose weight, 38% increased their intake of protein, and 14% increased their intake of fiber.
Moreover, “Our research finds that 47% of global consumers turn to functional and fortified food to boost their health, and 39% use functional and fortified drinks,” says Johnson. “Functional food and drinks are defined as products that contain added health ingredients to offer a health boost beyond basic nutrition, and these products can aid in weight loss and weight maintenance.”
Working Supplements into Overall Health
Supplements provide added nutrition, too. The 2021 FMCG Gurus weight management survey showed that of those trying to lose weight and taking steps “perceived as more drastic than simply changing their diet to include more healthy foods,” 19% used nutritional supplements, 18% had consumed a nutritional shake or beverage as part of a diet plan, and 7% used over-the-counter tablets/medication.
“Consumers today follow a wide range of weight-management strategies, from optimal nutrition to Rx treatments to supplements,” observes Suleen Mak, vice president of innovation and strategy at wellness-product company Iovate Health Sciences, whose flagship supplement brands include Hydroxycut for weight management and MuscleTech for active nutrition.
When asked about trends she sees happening in weight management, Mak says, “Consumers today want weight-management results that go beyond the scale alone. They want to feel good both mentally and physically, and our innovation pathway is focused on delivering holistic solutions.”
She continues: “I think there is a movement towards better nutrition as opposed to calorie restriction, and there has also been a shift towards body composition—for example, more lean muscle and lower body fat versus focusing on the scale alone. At Iovate, we’ve focused on macro-level trends, as well, such as clean energy, stress reduction, mental focus, and flavorful formats which you can take on the go.”
With the goal being holistic health, these products help consumers tackle multiple health goals, healthy weight and body composition included. And they do so using a variety of ingredients. “In natural health products, the ‘better for you’ focus has become a consumer expectation, so you’ll see ingredient trends such as plant-based, collagen, and superfoods overlap with weight management,” Mak says. Iovate’s supplement brand Hydroxycut is leveraging an exclusive capsaicin-related ingredient called Axivite—“a super-bioavailable form of the hot chili pepper that’s exclusive to Iovate,” Mak explains—to help reduce body weight and fight obesity, increase metabolism, and lower calorie intake, all while balancing intestinal flora and reducing gut inflammation. Iovate’s MuscleTech brand is including “ingredient breakthrough” Enfinity paraxanthine in some of its preworkout and thermogenic products. Mak describes Enfinity as “a metabolite of caffeine without many of its perceived and historically known downsides.”
The company is also focusing on delivery formats catering to consumers’ current preferences. “Consumers want flavor and convenience in weight management, so gummies, drink mixes, and RTDs will continue to grow,” she predicts.
The Future Of Weight Management
Will consumer attitudes toward weight management change yet again? “It’s possible that the trend away from weight loss and restriction could correct itself in the coming year, which promises to be much more ‘normal’ in terms of social life than last year,” Marion says. Also, she notes, new prescription drugs like Wegovy and Ozempic could have consumers thinking about weight loss in a new way. “These are still new and relatively unfamiliar, but as more consumers gain awareness and access, they may explode in popularity and change the entire conversation around weight loss for CPG brands.”
For now, though, the focus on overall wellness, healthy nutrition, and positive messaging endures. As Marion notes, “Consumers are more likely than ever to take a holistic approach to health. This means that for consumers, weight management is related to mental health, to reducing stress, and definitely to boosting energy and immunity.”