Weight loss category made up of many varied segments

By Maggie Hennessy

- Last updated on GMT

Weight loss category made up of many varied segments

Related tags: Weight loss, Nutrition

Much more than just a single category, the weight loss market is striated into multiple segments based on consumers’ varying attitudes, behaviors and motivations, according to a study by consumer products consulting firm Abunda. 

“It’s important to understand which segment you are targeting so you can better address consumers’ needs and provide solutions that work,”​ Abunda founder and director Peter Leighton told NutraIngredients-USA.

Using analysis of such factors as lifestyle trends, consumer perceptions (from primary and secondary data), demographic data, product sales and ethnographic research, Abunda segmented the weight loss category into seven segments, which include everything from low-calorie or diet foods to diet supplements to trendy weight loss programs up to medically supervised weight loss programs. They range from low to high consumer involvement, with varying motivators, from vanity to media influence to guilt.

Lesser evil foods with huge market share

The lowest involvement category is made up of the ubiquitous “lesser evil foods,” such as diet soft drinks and low-fat and low-calorie products that require limited consumer sacrifice in terms of lifestyle, time or money—and are often driven by macro health and nutrition trends. This segment is estimated to be worth $18 billion, but Leighton said that number is likely closer to $90 billion.

“For instance, portion controlled products are considered to fall into this category, but what about products that have less fat, have changed to a healthier sweetener, etc.? The disparity is whether they are promoting these facts on the pack or not,”​ Leighton said.

Next up the chain is diet supplements (think QuickTrim or MetaboLife), a roughly $4 billion industry in the US, capturing 7% of dieters and 12% of those seeking weight management. Diet supplements are segmented further into stimulants, natural (e.g., green tea), appetite suppressors, fat burners, fat binders and carb blockers. Similarly this category’s users make little sacrifice, as it’s typically tied to an event and motivated by vanity, according to the study. It’s “do-it-yourself” dieting, so there’s “no need for discipline,” Leighton wrote.

“Sacrifice does indeed have to do with the amount of behavioral change required by the consumer,”​ he said. “In fact, we've found that one of the reasons consumers buy diet supplements is because they don't want to change their diet, rather, they want some "magic bullet" to just have them eat less or metabolize it differently so they don't gain weight.”

The meal replacement segment is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion, with a quarter of the population having purchased them at one time or another. Motivated by vanity, users of this segment make moderate sacrifices when it comes to taste—as they have a need to alter their diets to achieve weight loss—but they are limited in their discipline.

Tracking diet fads

The popular diet programs category—from Paleo to South Beach to the Zone—is tougher to track, given that it is full of fad-driven consumers who tend to cross over into other segments, Leighton noted. It demands significant consumer sacrifice, in the forms of money, lifestyle and taste and is typically motivated by third parties, such as friends and media outlets.

The exercise program category, which includes health clubs and gyms, has estimated US revenues of $12 billion, with roughly 30% of that diet related. Significant consumer sacrifice of time, money and effort is required, and users are largely motivated by vanity and guilt.

Commercial weight loss programs like Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, are an economic force, with estimated US revenues of $1.5 billion (by Marketmedia Enterprises). With high consumer sacrifice of time, money and lifestyle, this segment user is motivated by need, guilt and socialization. It is especially differentiated in that consumers seek motivational support and direction from these programs.

Finally, medically supervised programs, including Ornish, VLCD and prescription, have an estimated US revenue of $1.8 billion, according to Marketmedia Enterprises. Requiring a very high consumer sacrifice of time, money, lifestyle and effort, this segment user is motivated by health need and further driven by validation from a physician.

Fruits & Vegetables

Few diet segment users want to change habits

Exercise and eating right are typically seen as the “right” ways to lose weight, according to the study. While dieters realize that changing dietary habits is necessary, few diet segment users are willing to do this. “Some are more motivated than others, some are more health-oriented than others, but overall people do not want to have to feel bad while trying to lose weight,”​ Leighton wrote.

The diet market as a whole is fashion-oriented, meaning consumers are always seeking new, innovative alternatives. “Explore innovative products that combine bioactive nutraceuticals and high value food forms,” or weight loss function into everyday products, for example, Leighton wrote.

Above all, Leighton said, it’s crucial to target specific diet segments and address their unique needs and motivations, rather than oversimplifying the weight loss category. 

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