Millennial foodies' concerns with healthy eating habits aren't derived solely from an ethical belief. Many young adults seem to be embracing diet as a form of alternative medicine. Adherents to diets like paleo, gluten-free and others often tout food lifestyle changes as a path to better general wellness.
So how can food companies and food entrepreneurs play to this trend? Obviously, if you're not developing and producing healthy foods, you're going to have a hard time tapping in to the Millennial market.
Homeopathic Medicine Usage Among Young American Adults Is Rising.
Alternative medical measures are popular among Millennials, who often don't fully eschew regular medicine, but use holistic treatments in a complementary role.
According to a recent report by the Natural Marketing Institute, use of homeopathic remedies among Millennials rose 4 percent from 2009 to 2013, and that rise is predicted to continue. Indeed, by some estimates, alternative medicine for Millennials has become a $32 billion annual business.
Millennials' interest in non-pharmaceutical medicine extends, of course, to edibles that aren't part of regular meals, too—herbal supplements, probiotics, energy drinks, internal cleanses and other holistic products are big business. 68 percent of people in the age group report, for example, that they have taken a dietary supplement of some form within the past 30 days.
Herbal Supplements And Alternative Health-Geared Foods Can Be Controversial.
It's tempting, in the course of marketing the health benefits of a food or supplement, to overpromise. For example, you probably remember the difficulties Dannon ran into a few years back regarding their claims about the ability of Activia yogurt to promote and regulate bowel health, relative to other yogurts and probiotic products.
More recently, several states investigated and sued Living Essentials of Farmington Hills, the makers of the popular 5-Hour Energy Drinks over the company's claim that the drinks provide "hours of energy" with no crash afterward. And the company has faced tough questions from the Food and Drug Administration about the herbal products' safety after several deaths were attributed to consumers' heavy use of the energy drinks.
Physicians are quick to point out that many holistic medicine products and dietary supplements end up being proven to be clinically ineffective. Some are downright harmful. So why are Millennials quick to get behind the claims of what often turn out to be snake oil salesmen?
As Steven Salzburg, medical professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told The Fiscal Times, "We need to do a better job of educating people in high school and college to be a little bit more careful and frankly skeptical about claims. There are no secret cures for cancer, no secret cure for aging that you can buy from a particular website."
Avoid Regulatory Pitfalls. Be Careful And Methodical As You Develop Health-Oriented Food Products.
Food companies must avoid making unsubstantiated health claims that would get them sued. That can be a tough row to hoe. After all, if the whole premise of a product's existence is to address alternative health product demand, many believe, those claims come with the territory.
Unfortunately, such thinking often leaves food companies vulnerable to litigation. Or, at best, it sets up an unreasonable expectation in the consumer. Millennial foodies may be quick to try out a new product, but they're not stupid—if your product health claims don't bear out with use, they'll quickly forsake it and move on to a proven commodity.
When you develop new products, it's better to rely on double-blind, unsponsored research to derive marketable insights into their potential health benefits. Consider partnering with a major university's food sciences or chemistry program to develop, test and incubate foods and supplements.
As American food culture continues to shift toward wellness and conscienscious consumption, there is certainly plenty of room in the market for edibles that taste great and boost health.