Healthy believers: 4 types of health conscious consumers

Healthy believers – consumers with a strong belief in the importance of healthy food and drink – are for many food producers a growing and profitable customer segment. But watch out! Healthy believers are not a homogeneous group. There are four different types. Let’s explore them in-depth.

3 March 2020 •

What makes con­sumers choose one food over anoth­er? For more and more peo­ple, it is health. The own health or the health of close rel­a­tives. This is a clear trend that has last­ed for a few years, and will sure­ly con­tin­ue for many years to come. As a cus­tomer seg­ment, they are very inter­est­ing for food pro­duc­ers. Most peo­ple in the seg­ment are strong buy­ers and are pre­pared to pay a pre­mi­um price to get food that they regard as healthy. Many of them are dri­ven by a strong con­vic­tion. So strong that the Healthy Marketing Team (HMT), in its Global Gamechangers 2020 report, call them healthy believ­ers.

But healthy believ­ers don’t believe the same thing. HMT dis­tin­guish­es four types of healthy believ­ers with total­ly dif­fer­ent notions of what is healthy food and drink.

In two arti­cles, we explore four dif­fer­ent types of healthy believ­ers and look at how food com­pa­nies can use sto­ry­telling to mar­ket and sell to them. In this arti­cle, we take a clos­er look at the four types of healthy believers.


In mar­ket­ing, it is com­mon for poten­tial buy­ers to be divid­ed into dif­fer­ent seg­ments. Each seg­ment is char­ac­ter­ized by prop­er­ties that are com­mon to every­one in the seg­ment. The point is to adapt the mar­ket­ing to a seg­ment accord­ing to the dis­tinc­tive char­ac­ter­is­tics. This hap­pens in vir­tu­al­ly all indus­tries and for all types of prod­ucts and brands. The food indus­try is no exception.

If you walk into a gro­cery store and let your eyes wan­der over the shelf with break­fast cere­als, you are greet­ed by sig­nals, in the form of the packaging’s appear­ance and con­tent, which are made to attract spe­cif­ic seg­ments. Most notable is the dif­fer­ence between the colour­ful pack­ages of sug­ary cere­al flakes for chil­dren and the sober pack­ages of super­müs­li for health-con­scious adults.

The health-con­scious adults are a seg­ment for which more and more food pro­duc­ers have opened their eyes. So have the con­sul­tan­cy bureau The Healthy Marketing Team (HMT), which spe­cial­izes in mar­ket­ing and brand build­ing in the cross­road between food and health.

Healthy believers

In the 2020 edi­tion of its annu­al report, Global Gamechangers, HMT takes a clos­er look at the con­sumer seg­ment that val­ues healthy food and drink. They call these con­sumers healthy believ­ers.

But healthy believ­ers are not a homo­ge­neous group. They are unit­ed by a belief in the impor­tance of healthy food. But they dif­fer sig­nif­i­cant­ly in what they con­sid­er to be healthy. In any case, it is not deter­mined by the nutri­tion dec­la­ra­tion, the nutri­tion­al chart or what the doc­tor is saying.


Healthy believ­ers’ per­cep­tion of healthy food is shaped by deep­er motives. Culture, val­ues, pol­i­tics and iden­ti­ty for­ma­tion plays a cru­cial role in their consumption.

Therefore, the healthy believ­er seg­ment must be divid­ed into even small­er segments.

HMT, togeth­er with a team from Lund University, stud­ied healthy believ­ers and con­clud­ed that they can be divid­ed into four sub-seg­ments with dia­met­ri­cal­ly dif­fer­ent per­cep­tions of what is healthy food and drink.

The four sub-seg­ments con­sist of self-real­iza­tion con­sumers, eth­i­cal con­sumers, sci­en­tif­ic con­sumers and tra­di­tion­al con­sumers. Let’s take a clos­er look at them.

Self-realization consumers

We start with the self-real­iza­tion con­sumers.

Individualism and emo­tions are key con­cepts in this seg­ment. It doesn’t mat­ter if they hear things that don’t fit with their world­view. The views and thoughts of oth­ers are not impor­tant as long as it feels right to them. What they know about the world comes from their emo­tions. The bound­ary between know­ing and feel­ing is not clear.

They are con­stant­ly look­ing for the lat­est, coolest and most dif­fer­ent trend. They put great val­ue in ‘dis­cov­er­ing’ these things and being in some form of cut­ting edge. At the same time, they val­ue the phe­nom­e­non, ingre­di­ents, rit­u­als and habits that they regard as ancient. For exam­ple, yoga or med­i­ta­tion. These rit­u­als and habits are viewed as time­less knowl­edge and wis­dom sur­round­ed by mys­ti­cism, which is per­ceived as pos­i­tive and some­thing that the ‘emo­tion­al knowl­edge’ can rest in.

Important questions for the self-realizing consumer

  • Does the prod­uct fit my style?
  • Does the prod­uct feel like a reward?
  • Does the prod­uct meet my spe­cif­ic needs?

Example: Moon Juice

The supplement ‘Superyou’, by Moon Juice Picture
The sup­ple­ment ‘Superyou’ by Moon Juice
Moon Juice

Moon Juice is an American com­pa­ny that has gone from sell­ing healthy juices to expand­ing their assort­ment. They now offer a vari­ety of prod­ucts and are at the inter­sec­tion of health, beau­ty and spir­i­tu­al­i­ty. Exactly the cross-bor­der and holis­tic approach that the self-real­iz­ing seg­ment appreciates.

Ethical consumers

Next seg­ments are the eth­i­cal con­sumers. Here we find con­sumers who care deeply about glob­al issues such as cli­mate change and injus­tice. Health goes beyond healthy foods that are good for the body. Health is also sus­tain­abil­i­ty, good work­ing con­di­tions and ani­mal care. The food we choose is cru­cial to the well-being of the planet.

The eth­i­cal con­sumer is a polit­i­cal con­sumer who doesn’t want to spend mon­ey on some­thing that can be per­ceived as dirty or ques­tion­able. Brands that, on the oth­er hand, send out clear sig­nals about sus­tain­abil­i­ty and respon­si­bil­i­ty can be praised to the skies by their fans.

For the eth­i­cal con­sumer, there are clear dual­i­ties; there is black and white – good and bad – jus­tice and injustice.

Important questions for the ethical consumer

  • Does the prod­uct take a stand?
  • Does the prod­uct make a difference?
  • Does the prod­uct express my polit­i­cal opinion?

Example: Oatly

Oat milk with taste of orange and man­go by Oatly
Picture: Oatly

Oat milk pro­duc­er Oatly is a good exam­ple with its offen­sive com­mu­ni­ca­tion aimed at tra­di­tion­al cow milk. They have been look­ing to cre­ate a debate to show who they are and what they stand for. Oatly has also been good at appear­ing in the right con­text where there are many young and con­scious peo­ple, such as the col­lab­o­ra­tion with the recur­ring music fes­ti­val Way out west, in Gothenburg.

Scientific consumers

Here we find the oppo­site of the self-real­iz­ing con­sumers. Rationality and empir­i­cal data is the way to go. There is no mag­ic; what counts is the tan­gi­ble and con­crete fact. Health is con­crete results com­ing from exer­cis­ing, weight loss, or the per­for­mance of a prod­uct. It may be reduced waist mea­sure­ments in cen­time­tres, run­ning faster in the next marathon, or buy­ing an advanced heart rate mon­i­tor. Health and well-being are mea­sur­able things. Therefore, they are also inter­est­ed in being at the fore­front and want to know all about the lat­est tech­nol­o­gy, to get access to the most advanced pedome­ter, or the lat­est dietary supplement.

The hunt for the best prod­uct goes by read­ing and keep­ing up to date. Therefore, it is point­less try­ing to trick the sci­en­tif­ic con­sumer. By lis­ten­ing to experts and knowl­edge­able pro­fes­sion­als in the indus­try, they try to acquire a broad knowl­edge base. Everything to make the best pur­chase deci­sion possible.

The sci­en­tif­ic con­sumer also wants to eval­u­ate prod­ucts pure­ly prac­ti­cal, it is, how­ev­er, mea­sur­able results rather than the expe­ri­ence of the prod­uct that is the focus.

Important questions for the scientific consumer

  • Is the prod­uct the best of its kind?
  • Is the prod­uct on a sci­en­tif­ic basis?
  • Does the prod­uct improve my performance?

Example: Maurten

Drinkmix by Maurten
Picture: Maurten

Maurten is a Swedish com­pa­ny focused on mak­ing the best and most sophis­ti­cat­ed sports drink. The prod­uct is intend­ed to make the con­sumer per­form as well as pos­si­ble dur­ing endurance-demand­ing sports. Maurten has a close col­lab­o­ra­tion with aca­d­e­mics and uni­ver­si­ties. Technology, sci­ence and research are recur­ring key terms in their communication.

Traditional consumers

Finally, we have the tra­di­tion­al con­sumers. They search for and appre­ci­ate the gen­uine, orig­i­nal and unspoiled. They have dis­trust and con­tempt for the large-scale, glob­al and mass-pro­duced. There is also a form of dual­i­ty here – the real and the false.

The tra­di­tion­al con­sumer val­ues the expe­ri­ence more than any­thing else. The expe­ri­ence of tra­di­tion and that there is a clear cul­tur­al her­itage and some­thing to hold on to. Only then does a sense of secu­ri­ty arise.

Important questions for the traditional consumer

  • Does the prod­uct have a story?
  • Is the prod­uct part of a tradition?
  • Is the prod­uct easy to bond with?

Example: Shatto Milk

Milk bot­tle out of glass by Shatto Milk
Picture: Shatto Milk Company

Shatto Milk is a small dairy farm with a rich her­itage that goes far back. The cur­rent own­ers are good at tak­ing advan­tage of this her­itage by telling us how it all began in the late 1800s, and how milk is still con­sid­ered a prod­uct where local and fam­i­ly val­ues are fun­da­men­tals. The tra­di­tion­al con­sumer appre­ci­ates this inti­ma­cy, which in turn cre­ates trust in the brand.

The common factor

The four seg­ments of healthy believ­ers empha­size dif­fer­ent things and may appear quite dif­fer­ent. For exam­ple, sci­en­tif­ic con­sumers are search­ing for num­bers, data and evi­dence, while eth­i­cal con­sumers may be more inter­est­ed in work­ing con­di­tions in fac­to­ries, car­bon foot­print, or prod­ucts free from ani­mal testing.

But there is one com­mon fac­tor that all com­pa­nies that tar­get one of these seg­ments must relate to: Credibility.

Earn credibility

Credibility is hard to win and easy to lose. Many com­mon ways of mar­ket­ing are, at best, inef­fec­tive and at worst harm­ful. For exam­ple, it is dif­fi­cult to gain cred­i­bil­i­ty with reg­u­lar adver­tise­ments, and over­ly gen­er­ous adver­tis­ing can instead erode the credibility.

But there are effec­tive ways to gain cred­i­bil­i­ty in the eyes of the con­sumer with mar­ket­ing. One such way is called sto­ry­telling. We will take a clos­er look at this in the next article.

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