Healthy vs. Indulgent Foods: Consumers in the U.S., China, and Brazil Help Us Identify Differences and Similarities Among Countries

As we head into the holiday season, most of us are surrounded by food. Whether it’s a Halloween office party, a Thanksgiving potluck, or a Christmas dinner with family and friends, there is sure to be food at the center of these gatherings. Depending on taste and preference, some of us prefer to indulge a bit during this time of year. Now, “indulgence” means something different to each of us, and that certainly affects the way we view certain foods and whether or not we choose to buy them.

The GutCheck team wanted to find out how consumers in the U.S., China, and Brazil view healthy and indulgent foods in order to gain a stronger understanding of their mindset, especially given the time of year. The team also wanted to be able to share valuable and helpful information with current clients in the food space.

The Research

We launched three online Instant Research Groups: one in the U.S., one in China, and one in Brazil. The respondents who took part in our study were ages 18-64, both males and females, and were all primary shoppers in their households.

The research objectives that guided our studies were as follows:

  1. Understand what “healthy” and “indulgent” means as it relates to foods and lifestyle; uncover consumer emotions and feelings toward purchasing and eating these types of foods.
  2. Identify overall expectations for healthy/indulgent foods in terms of flavor, taste, and price.
  3. Understand the roles brands and labels play when choosing healthy/indulgent foods.
  4. Gain more knowledge around why people consider themselves healthy eaters when in fact they are not as healthy as they think.

The Multi-Country Results

Healthy Foods

No matter the country, respondents want to eat healthier and see two main benefits for doing so: improved health and a decreased likelihood of illness. American respondents want to eat healthier, which means more fruits and vegetables, but they are not afraid to indulge. In China, food safety is a pressing issue; therefore, choosing foods that are naturally produced and free of additives is becoming more and more important. The label is how Brazilians define what is healthy, and they aim to eat healthy for rational reasons, rather than emotional reasons.

Indulgent Foods

Respondents from all three countries try to only eat indulgent foods occasionally, rather than on a daily basis. In the U.S., snacks and treats equate to indulgent foods; they are eaten in both positive and negative situations. However, in China, indulgent foods are not defined. “Indulgent” foods in China were thought to be those eaten to satisfy cravings or hunger and could be healthy or unhealthy. In Brazil, indulgent foods are seen as extremely appealing and comforting. Their ideas of indulgent foods are ones that make the eater feel guilty if eaten regularly.

How to Better Market Foods in All Three Countries

Brands selling healthy foods should highlight the health benefits on product labels and branding, and consider providing health tips and recipes to make their food more appealing to all worldwide consumers. Based on respondent feedback, these brands should…

  • Showcase how their products inspire and empower their customers
  • Strategize ways to improve consumer outlook on their products’ tastes
  • Prove that optimal health is worth a potentially higher price point

Brands that sell popular indulgent foods that have been on the market for a long time should ensure that their products maintain their branding to retain customer loyalty. To combat the guilt that consumers feel after indulging in non-healthy foods, marketing and packaging efforts for indulgent foods should highlight the nutritional benefits of the product. Alternatively, these brands could develop products with similar flavor profiles that are made with organic or healthier ingredients.

As previously mentioned, there’s a phenomenon that exists where people think they’re making healthy choices, when in fact, they are not as healthy as they think. When asked about this, respondents in each country gave different reasons as to why this inconsistency exists, as well as what can be done to change it.

Download the complimentary reports for each country below to read their suggestions, along with all respondent feedback for each individual country including…

  • Detailed findings
  • Brands respondents are most loyal to
  • Photo uploads showing the healthy/indulgent foods respondents had in their kitchens when taking this study
  • Additional quotes, including side-by-side translations from Chinese & Portuguese
  • More marketing tips offered up by respondents