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The desire to be fit and healthier seems to be almost universal. Healthy living is becoming a status symbol, as more consumers opt to flaunt their passion for wellness through paying for boutique fitness sessions, “athleisure” clothing, food with health-giving properties and upscale health and wellness holidays. The spectacle of those willing to throw money at their quest for spiritual improvement is widespread enough to provide an easy target for humour, as are the frequent consumer Instagram posts of retreat experiences, expressing wellness by clichéd images of fitness-wear and toned bodies posing against scenic backdrops. At a time when consuming “stuff”, once an indicator of wealth, is now taking a back seat, the lack of things, of excess fat, of wayward thoughts even, now defines aspiration and is at the heart of the consumer interest in wellness.
Athleisure is seen on people everywhere outside as well as inside the gym. Consumers are signifying that health and wellness matter to them, and ever higher-end interpretations keep emerging. Celebrities, such as Beyoncé, are collaborating with brands on their take on the trend, even walking down the aisle in bejewelled, customised trainers. The term athleisure includes all of the word leisure, but less than half of the word athletic! Outdoor Voices is a US athleisure brand that grasps this. “We believe that fitness does not have to be defined by performance”, its website explains. Designers are teaming up with sports brands to create clothes that InStyle magazine describes as “après sport” or “gym-to-the-office”.
The consumer interest in staying well sees them combining wellbeing activities with cathartic physical activity. This is reflected in a thriving menu of more esoteric, boutique fitness workout choices in urban hubs and spas. Some unlikely combinations have emerged, including BoxingYoga, a yoga-based training system. A new, holistic generation of gyms are about users defining themselves and about flaunting and sharing this exclusive lifestyle, as well as specialist activities.
SoulCycle, a New York gym that has grown to more than 30 branches, has near-cult status. Celebrities like David Beckham cycle in a club atmosphere, spurred by trainers chanting motivational messages like “I want you to grow”. With BounceLimit, Asia has its first trampoline fitness studio in Hong Kong, with individual mini-trampolines. Supermodel Lara Stone was recently photographed smoking outside her London gym, Bodyism, which has a reported annual membership fee of £22,000. It is considered one of the most exclusive wellness companies globally, offering bespoke personal training, clothing, supplements and six best-selling books.
Wellness holidays promote the idea that consumers can take some time off, transform themselves and return a better, happier person. As US journalist Sadie Stein puts it, “We live in a golden age of the ‘wellness vacation’, a sort of hybrid retreat, boot camp, spa and roving therapy session that … promises to refresh body and mind and send you back to your life more whole”. Wellness consumers seem to have rediscovered the link, with deep historical roots, between holidays and the pursuit of health. Pravassa, for instance, is a “wellness travel company”. Its website declares, “You work hard enough. It’s time to let vacation restore your best self”.
So-called medical tourism now takes in the broader quests of wellness- and fitness tourism, including curative therapies and weight loss. “Holistic wellness packages on vacation have become much more common and in some cases, the main purpose of travel”, says Cassandra Forrest, Director of Spa at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, China.
Consumers are aware that eating habits directly influence quality of life. This is fuelling unprecedented demand for healthier eating options with fitness-promoting attributes sought in supplements, beauty products and even pet food by consumers willing to pay for them. With the endorsement of health experts, such as nutritionists, chefs, fitness and medical professionals, brands are busy creating products with the addition of health-giving properties, including exotic vegetables, vitamins and fibre. Mainstream brands now speak the language of wellness. Mondelez International boasts that “We create snacks to bring people delicious moments of joy. To help consumers on their well-being journey” — a key brand priority leading up to 2020.