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You are what you eat

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The idea that to be fit and healthy you need to eat good food is not a new notion. Anthelme Brillat-Savarin wrote, in Physiologie du Goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante, 1826: “Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es.” [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. 

The actual phrase didn’t emerge in English until somewhat later. In 1942, Victor Lindlahr, the man who developed the Catabolic Diet published “You Are What You Eat: how to win and keep health with diet.“ That seems to be the vehicle that took the phrase into the public consciousness.

What does you are what you eat mean?

The phrase got a new lease of life in the 1960s hippy era. Macrobiotic wholefood was the food of choice and the phrase was adopted as a slogan for healthy eating. The belief in the diet in some quarters was so strong that when Adelle Davis, a leading spokesperson for the organic food movement, contracted the cancer that later killed her, she attributed the illness to the junk food she had eaten at college.

Now nearly 60 years later and it would be unusual to hear any dissenting voices around the idea that eating well is an important part of maintaining good health. In the UK the NHS has published ‘Eat Well’ which provides guidelines on how much of what we eat overall should come from each food group to achieve a healthy, balanced diet. Public Health England’s ‘Change for Life’ program has invested tens of millions in trying to educate the public about the health benefits of diet and exercise.

This is, however, far from being a straightforward task. ‘Modern life’ can mean that we’re a lot less active. With so many opportunities to watch TV or play computer games, and with so much convenience and fast food available, we don’t move about as much, or eat as well as we used to. What is more, when it comes to food choices, one person’s meat, plant based, low-fat, reduced-sugar or gluten-free diet is another’s poison.

So, is you are what you eat true?

Despite these apparent contradictions and complexity, it would seem that one area of the market set to enjoy steady growth is Nutrition and Supplements, as evidenced by both long-term market growth forecasts and recent M&A activity. Whilst this is far from a homogenous market, with distinct sub-categories in, for example, mono mineral supplements, sports nutrition, botanicals and clinical nutrition, it is characterised by the link to the idea that what we do or do not eat or consume as part of our daily diet can have a direct effect on our overall health and wellbeing.

Not surprisingly, from a marketing perspective, it is here at the increasingly blurring boundaries of ‘Healthy Nutrition’ that many challenges are encountered. For brands, positioning, proposition, visual identity, category codes, design cues, copy and claims are traditionally very different between healthcare and FMCG markets. Even a cursory look at some of the sub-categories mentioned is evidence enough of the potential for creating consumer confusion.

So, how do brand owners navigate the complex and dynamic ‘grey’ areas between food and health to create distinctive, relevant and credible propositions that engage with emerging choice architectures and changing consumer behaviour?

1HQCreativeLeap and 1HQ are respectively, leaders in Health and Wellness and Food & Beverage branding and have recently joined forces to address these very issues. Our combined experience and expertise make us unique in being able to understand and decode the often-conflicting thought processes, category codes and semiotics around eating more healthily.

We have designed and proven a robust methodology that translates these insights into compelling visual and verbal brand propositions that respect and amplify key aspects of existing brand equity, to drive relevance, distinctiveness and engagement.


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