The Indulgence Factor: how to successfully market healthy food


It is no longer enough to market healthy food as healthy – consumers are increasingly seeking indulgence. In fact, labelling food as healthy can actually have negative repercussions for a business as the trend is changing from hiding nutritious ingredients in foods to displaying them differently and improving their aesthetic. And this is a great opportunity for advertisers.

Healthy meals have greater appeal if they accompany a narrative, a surprise or provide emotional gratification. Think about the success of restaurants like the vegan by CHLOE in the US and LEON in the UK – that offer healthy twists of famous “treat yourself” foods (burgers, french fries, brownies…) with statements “Eat Well. Eat with Purpose.” and “Naturally Fast Food” respectively. Both businesses tap into the emotional side of the consumer by offering the “good for you” option while keeping the fast food indulgence factor.


Healthy eating is now an emotional, aesthetic-led phenomenon that is part of the experience economy. As the definition of what is healthy evolves, consumers opt for individual approaches. They are listening to the senses and their bodies – think about your gut – straying further from strict calorie-counting.

Consumers today rate foods perceived to be healthy as less tasty, according to JAMA Medicine’s 2017 research. The study observed the uptake of vegetables served in a university cafeteria, labelled four different ways. The language used on the labels was shown to significantly affect choice and the amounts consumed.

Indulgent language prevailed by 25% over basic descriptions, 41% over healthy but restrictive wording such as “reduced-sodium corn” and 35% over healthy positive labels like “vitamin-rich corn”.

“The majority of consumers prioritise taste over health when deciding what to eat,” said Brad Turnwald, the project’s lead researcher. He highlighted the success of phrases such as “twisted citrus-glazed carrots” and “dynamite chilli and tangy lime-seasoned beets”.

As a low-cost marketing tool, decadent labelling creates excitement and has a huge impact on consumer expectations.

Language also has the power to create market ripple effects. Statements such as “pizza is no longer off-limits” and “superfoods” are linked to stricter eating regimes and increase an interest in alternative foods, such as coconut and gluten-free frozen pizza.

What is clear alongside the success of marketing, is the consumer’s adoption of balance in food choices and lifestyle; they are seeking the feeling of being – and feeling – healthy.


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