By Victoria Walling
It’s second nature for everyone to make decisions every day – in random and ordinary moments, but especially so in crucial and inevitable situations. However, over time, making decisions have become increasingly complex due to the overwhelming number of choices we have now. This is when choice fatigue surfaces, and where businesses need to re-examine how they differentiate their products to ensure they stand out in the market.
What is choice fatigue, anyway? It’s the overwhelming feeling consumers get when faced with too many options repeatedly. It’s brought about by the presence of similarities in the products available today where everything seems to look identical, offering the same benefits, and saying the same thing over and over again. Choice fatigue happens when there is that absence of difference in the abundant options the market is presented with day in, day out.
“We’re the better option.”
“We’re the healthier alternative.”
“We use natural and real ingredients.”
These are just some of the same messages we see when we search for plant-based milk as an example. The constant presence of similarities overweighing the absence of difference makes decision-making for consumers laborious. For healthy food and beverage brands, this makes increasing market share more challenging. The end-goal of healthy food and beverage brands is to be the top choice in the minds of the consumers, not to overwhelm them in making a selection amidst hundreds of options.
Experiencing choice fatigue is not the greatest experience and can be harmful at some point. In reality, the freedom to choose is one of the main roots of unhappiness and distress today. American psychologist Barry Schwartz wrote in his The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less book that while many believe that being presented with multiple options makes it easier to choose one that we are happy with, having too many to choose from actually requires more effort to make a decision, which can often leave us dissatisfied with our choice. Hence, the paradox where having more options actually limits our freedom to choose.
Freedom is closely associated with choice, with a certain belief that having greater choice equals to greater freedom. Schwartz explains in his book that while freedom is essential, there is a fine line between having the freedom to choose what we want and being paralyzed because of too many options. This unconstrained freedom leads to choice paralysis, the inability to choose one option among many, resulting to negative emotions and choice fatigue.
As brands, that’s not what you want your consumers to go through when they need to purchase a product in the healthy F&B industry.
Finding the Balance in the Market
Healthy food and beverage brands are now challenged to become distinct enough to attract consumers. As the world goes through scientific, social, and technological innovations and advances, there are more options available today than there were in previous years.
Take the choice of what milk to buy as one example of how privy we can become to having access to an abundance of choices. Imagine you walking down aisle 4 where all the milk products are and you’re presented with 88 different brands and options – should you go dairy or plant-based milk? Low fat or non-fat? 1% or 2%? Full milk or skim milk? Soy milk or almond milk? Sweetened or unsweetened? Original flavor or chocolate? This can get confusing for consumers but can present a great opportunity for brands to further drill down their unique positioning and establish their product differentiation.
Healthy food and beverage brands need to understand that the paradox of choice is a concern about economics and consumer satisfaction hand in hand. Even more so now that everyone has easy access to the internet and social media, brands are bogged down by the endless challenge of cutting through white noise and emerge as the thought of, go-to healthy F&B preference.
How then can healthy food and beverage brands like yours stand out from the shelves and deliver the value right at the buyers’ touchpoints?
Battling and Winning Choice Fatigue in the Healthy F&B Industry
Eliminating options and choices can help reduce everyone’s stress and anxiety in lives. I’ve been to many groceries – Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Hannaford, Costco, Aldi, and a few more and we go back to the two main challenges evident in today’s society – the consistent presence of similarity and the absence of difference among the products made available to the market. How then can brands help consumers battle choice fatigue?
There are key ways to make sure you differentiate your product from the rest, but that will be discussed more thoroughly in a different article. However, there are three tips I can share that will help brands right now as they navigate through their brand development journey in the healthy food and beverage industry.
Tip 1 – Know Your Product Offering. Is it original? Is it compelling enough for consumers to choose it over competing brands? Find an angle that nobody has taken before, develop that image and voice that are distinctly your own. Highlight what you offer and the key benefits your audience can get. Let’s put a bit more context into this.
For example, we have Dream Milk, which is a healthy alternative to other non-dairy versions and utilizes almonds. As part of the brand development journey, it’s imperative that we define the product offering, feature its key benefits, and what sets it apart from the others.
So, for this non-existent Dream Milk sample, we can consider the following:
What is Dream Milk? –Dream Milk is your low calorie, no sugar, organically-grown almond milk made by local farmers in California.
Key benefits – Dream Milk contains nutrients like vitamin D, E, calcium, fiber, and protein. It’s creamy, silky, and nutrient-pack. The perfect non-dairy alternative for those conscious about their blood sugar levels.
Differentiation – Dream Milk specifically helps maintain low blood sugar levels without compromising the taste and experience of drinking non-dairy milk. It was created by John Cavendish who hails from a family who has a history of diabetes. As part of his commitment to help the community live a better life, he and his team formulated their own almond milk to help those prone to diabetes keep their blood sugar levels to a minimum while still enjoying silky, creamy milk with almost all the benefits you get from dairy milk, and then some.
Tip 2 – Understand Your Market. The best and successful brands in the world today are the ones that understand their target audiences the most. It’s ideal if you can call out to your perfect target market and try to get inside their head. Don't think about the branding that YOU like; think about the branding that your target market likes.
Dream Milk caters to Americans from ages 16 to 60 years old who come from a family history of diabetes. They are individuals who love milk but are conscious of their sugar intake on a daily basis. They are your everyday citizens who take their health seriously but are not open to compromising their healthy food eating habits.
They are looking for the healthier alternative to dairy milk, one that checks all the boxes: full of flavor, texture, nutrients, benefits. They want to drink milk every day without having to worry about their sugar levels. With Dream Milk, they are able to enjoy simple pleasures in life.
Tip 3 – Provide Value at all Times. Healthy F&B brands stand out more when they offer a great deal of value than the other players in the market. This could be achieved in several ways.
Offering ‘Better’ Products
Dream Milk aims to be the healthy option for non-dairy milk to keep sugar levels down.
It’s better than soy and macadamia milk because it has less fat and sugar content but contain more vitamins.
Stronger Messaging for Customers
Drinking milk is no longer a luxury. Drink it as you please, however many times you want in a day.
You don’t have to keep watching your sugar intake with Dream Milk. One glass with each meal won’t hurt you.
Dream Milk is your go-to milk without the guilt.
Highlight your Positioning to Connect on an Emotional Level
Dream Milk is the healthy option for low calorie, no sugar, and organically grown almond milk for health-conscious individuals. It’s made for individuals who love to drink milk every day without having to worry about their sugar levels.
The goal is for you to dive deep into your positioning and unravel the best brand development journey for your healthy food and beverage products. But what is most important is that you put your target customers as a priority when you go through the development process. When you do this, your efforts will all lead to connecting on an emotional level with your customers.
It is imperative for brands to stand out and avoid looping consumers into the choice fatigue frenzy. It must be your goal and commitment as a healthy food and beverage brand to help make lives easier for your customers, not harder. So, take a step back, look into your product and how it’s being sold in stores now, and decide for yourself.
The end goal is for your brand to not drown in the hundreds of options available but stand out in your target market’s eye. Now the question is, are you ready to take on this challenge and bring your product branding to the next level?