There may be a common perception that healthy food is more expensive, but Lumina data shows healthy options have grown in importance for consumers eating out, Maria Georgiou writes for MCA

Consumers continue to be heavily impacted by the cost of living crisis with wider economic challenges and worries impacting behaviour. It is common that in times of economic hardship, health tends to take a backseat. The reason behind this is that health can be expensive – or at least there’s a perception of this. In fact, the latest data from Lumina Intelligence’s Eating and Drinking Out Panel has revealed that healthy food options have grown in importance as a reason to visit an establishment in the 52 weeks ending 19 March 2023, compared to the same period last year. This indicates the result of the UK recently coming out from a global pandemic that put health at the forefront of consumer minds.

Lumina data also finds that 43% of UK adults are aligned with health-related values including exercising every day or eating fruit and vegetables with most of their meals, increasing by +0.5ppts year-on-year. However, not all consumers are the same, and health is more important to some demographics than others. Generally, it is the younger, more affluent who are the most health-conscious – especially millennial consumers – and they are becoming more so year-on-year. Moreover, younger families are the most common living arrangement of health-led consumers, holding a 40% share of occasions and overtrading by +6ppts compared to the total family share of eating out occasions. In addition, London is the top over-indexing region (compared to the total market) where consumers choose establishments with healthy food and drink items, and it is accounting for 25% of health-led occasions.

What is key to understand when targeting consumers’ desire for healthy food in out-of-home is the different missions and factors where health is most important. Lumina data shows that healthy intentions overtrade earlier in the day, with consumers choosing venues with healthy options more often at breakfast, brunch, and lunch. One in three healthy food-driven occasions is an on-the-go visit, highlighting the importance of ensuring that there is a range of healthier items covering daytime meal occasions, and targeting time-sensitive consumers and city centre office workers who seek quick and healthy food and drinks on the go.

Health is increasingly important when consumers are eating out to try something new or different, meaning there is an emerging trend for operators to introduce healthier food and drink items that capitalise on new flavours and ingredients that provide health benefits. An interesting recent launch that looks to capitalise on these health trends comes from Costa Coffee. Costa’s Fuze Tea collection features mellow mango, spiced apple, and citrus zing – all of which promote healthy digestion – and contains no added sugar, is vegan, and has a low-calorie count.

It is also critical to mention that value is still the most important priority to consumers upon the rising cost of living, and it is growing by +5ppts year-on-year. However, value does not just mean inexpensive; it is more around justifying the price point through quality and health messaging that informs consumers about the benefits they get from each dish or drink. Greggs has already tapped into value-led healthy propositions by recently launching its Balanced Choice range, which is available throughout the day, focusing health messaging on vitamins, plant-based items and fruit and vegetable components. Indeed, Lumina data reveals that health-led consumers are more satisfied with the value for money and food and drink quality/taste by +1ppt compared to the total market, meaning that healthy food options can be seen as a way to deliver value to consumers.

Healthier eating doesn’t necessarily mean boring food and drink options. Even the most health-led consumers still want to treat themselves and seek out indulgent and delicious items. ‘Treat’ and ‘spending time with family’ rank as the top reasons why health-led consumers eat out of home. Utilising marketing communications around ‘get-together’ family meals and healthy treats will be a great way to win consumers. Healthier options on menus are important to these consumers, though quality and availability are among the top overtrading reasons and shouldn’t be overlooked as they can boost customer engagement and satisfaction. Also, when health drives venue choice, consumers spend +20% more compared to a typical eating out occasion, so offering premium quality options is important to win. Mitchells & Butlers pub dining brand Harvester has tapped into consumer needs for healthier and lighter eating by introducing its customisable balanced bowls, that maximise flavours with a variety of healthier choices. Its salad base is tossed in a low-fat vinaigrette, and it can be topped with the choice of grilled halloumi, chargrilled rump steak, salmon fillet or chicken breast.

Health is becoming increasingly important year-on-year, especially for younger, affluent consumers and those staying in capital cities. Innovation and tailored messaging will be key to winning consumers who like trying new things, with quality, taste and value important elements to consumers’ satisfaction. Hence, the winning formula lies in delicious, high quality and treat-led healthy solutions that deliver value to consumers.