Why do we need to go beyond awareness raising for healthy diets?

Globally, consumers are becoming more conscious of their health: more people take action to stay fit, choose to eat healthy foods and may take vitamin pills as a preventive measure. However, lack of awareness about the relationship between the food consumed and our health remains a big challenge, especially in developing countries. Marti van Liere, GAIN’s Director of Maternal, Infant and Young Child Nutrition writes.

Poor diets are the major contributor to the global burden of disease. The global diet indicators for maternal, infants and young children paint a picture of severe deprivation: diets are low quality—low in diversity, inadequate in quantity. But the fact is that the locally available and home-prepared foods low-income households can afford do not always fulfill all nutritional requirements of infants and young children.

Over the past years, GAIN has worked with a wide range of partners, including social businesses, to increase the supply of affordable, healthy, nutritious foods or supplements for low-income populations. But supply without demand is not enough.

The report ‘Marketing Nutrition for the Base of the Pyramid’ has drawn eight key lessons on demand and supply of nutritious products based on a review of seven business case studies. Demand creation is a complex process that often starts with raising awareness about the problem and the solution, with the assumption that, if someone has the knowledge, he will act on it, right?

Wrong! Although we all like to think of ourselves as rational beings, our choices and behavior are sometimes seemingly irrational. While knowledge and awareness are important, decisions and food choices are also driven by short-term satisfaction such as convenience (“I have no time, so food should be quick and easy to prepare”) or status (“I want to impress my friends or my mother-in-law with my choice”). Despite being important to all of us, our health and good nutrition is not always the highest priority in the daily decisions that we make.

A second important factor to take into account when creating demand for healthy diets is that Base of the Pyramid consumers are ready to pay for (nutritious) products they value. Making a product affordable does not always mean it has to be cheap, but often means value-for money. Consumers are sometimes even suspicious because they assume that “better” products should always cost more. For instance, when fortified soy sauce was first introduced to the market in China at a lower subsidized price than the non-fortified soy sauce, many consumers thought it was a gimmick or fake.

Influencing people’s behavior and decisions is one of the most difficult things to do. Matthew Wilcox points to the psychology of making choices in his book The Business of Choice in which he describes a number of reasons to explain ‘why people do not do, what they do not do’. For instance :

  • it is too difficult;
  • we prefer to comply to the social norm;
  • we have a natural preference for status quo and dislike change;
  • we prefer a smaller reward now, rather than a large one in the future.

Applying these insights to promoting nutritious, healthy diets and foods means that we need to put the psychology of the potential consumer at the center of our effort. Every parent wants the best for his or her children: they want them to be well-fed, growing up healthily, doing well in school and in life. But at the same time, every parent has personal needs and wants, preferences and daily concerns, which may trigger less healthy food decisions.

Non-nutrition benefits, such as convenience, taste, social norms and even brand credibility are strong drivers for demand. Commercial marketers have been using these insights for long. Now is the time to stand up against the promotion of unhealthy foods by using the same tools and start marketing nutritious and healthy diets.

Find out more about and register for our January webinars: Marketing nutritious
foods to the poorest communities

This blog was written for the series on Nutrition and Inclusive Business, launched in partnership with the The Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business in December 2016. The Hub is an online platform where practitioners that are implementing or facilitating inclusive business can gain information, insights and networks to help inclusive business grow. It supports the effective implementation of inclusive business by providing a gateway to information on inclusive business as well as offering insight, analysis and guidance to practitioners.

Published 29 December 2016

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