Indulgent brand paradox: how to operate in a world leaning into healthier choice

June 4th, 2013 Posted by Indulgent brand strategy 0 comments on “Indulgent brand paradox: how to operate in a world leaning into healthier choice”
Boys and Pizza

Can indulgent choices exist in a healthy diet?

By Bob Wheatley

Your running a business that at its core is indulgent. The brand story more closely aligned with pleasurable tastes experiences, or quality ingredients than with a DNA founded directly in healthier choice.

You know the consumer environment is moving increasingly towards recognition that food and beverage decisions can impact quality of life. And you wonder: can indulgent coexist with healthier? Are these paths mutually resistant to one another or is alignment possible? Is there a scenario downstream where consumers increasingly become more adamant about healthy and how do you answer this shift in preference?

First let’s get to the heart of the matter. Indulgent isn’t bad. Never will be. Excessive indulgence might become bad for anyone. For those on restricted diets, it’s a different set of issues entirely. Too much of anything – especially energy dense choices – might lead to negative outcomes left unabated or consumed excessively and in the absence of any mitigating behaviors like physical activity.

We associate food and beverage experiences with enjoyment.  Taste is important to us and is a pleasurable and treasured part of life. Most respected nutritionists agree that indulgences and treats are to be savored and enjoyed — not eliminated. Yet the question remains, what is the strategic path for indulgent brands in an environment where preference for healthy lifestyle is accelerating?

Ignoring the sea change is not the answer. There are some key strategies to deploy. Here’s a recap of a few of them.

Unique formulations and options in the portfolio

We have ample evidence that good-for-you is good for business, so are there products that can be added to the portfolio that offer healthy benefits or improved nutritionals? We’re not talking about marginalizing core products linked to your brand position necessarily. Other choices in the product line-up that offer better-for-you benefits can co-exist.

Honest ingredient analysis and due diligence

Of course there are some watch-outs and it just makes sense to look inward for a moment on formulations and ingredients. Our recent post covering the story on rBST growth hormones in milk and the rapid rise of organic brands shows that some ingredients can come back to haunt – especially if they appear to be too dense or have toxic sounding names.

So it’s best to analyze the portfolio to determine if there are vulnerabilities in there and work to resolve them. For example new natural sweetening options now exist that can help resolve added sugar issues — making reductions while keeping the taste.


Portion is just a wonderful zone for exploration because it helps mitigate the nutritional issues by simply modifying the size of the portion. This helps the consumer maintain their desired control over health and wellbeing, while offering an indulgent option they can enjoy. Packaging can be an incredibly useful tool in this way. And smaller portions can help optimize ingredient costs while helping build margins.

Credible messaging and guidance

Who would argue that serving customer interests isn’t a key ingredient in any brand marketing and communications strategy? As the majority of consumers continue to shift towards symbolic choices in food and beverage that demonstrate their interests in a healthy lifestyle, it’s important to be there with them and expand the brand voice as a guide around balance and moderation. Simply said, how indulgent choices can fit within a healthier diet. If healthier options are added to the portfolio, this opens other doors to aligning the brand with stakeholder organizations and credible experts in the nutrition community.

Total Diet – the inclusive approach to healthy living

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the largest association of nutrition professionals and an organization that represents a leading voice on healthy behaviors. If anything this organization remains respectful of people, human behaviors and enjoyment. They do not take a “ food police” position on healthier choice and prefer to help consumers find the right path while accommodating treats and indulgences in the diet. Officially, the Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating reinforces that all foods can be part of a healthy diet when consumed in moderation and combined with physical activity (energy in and energy out). Total Diet is also consistent with MyPlate and the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative.

This sensible healthy living platform leaves the door open and is inclusive of indulgent choices.

Bottom line – indulgent brands have an important role in life, living and happiness — and can play comfortably in healthy eating patterns. That said strategic alignment with consumers and their lifestyle choices is also key to building and maintaining relevance. Indulgent brands need to embrace healthy living!

Do you agree?

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