America is a culture of obsession. We obsess over celebrities, sports, our social media following, what our frenemies from high school are doing with their lives now… the list goes on. Slate recently wrote an opinion piece about “obsession culture” in America: we’re obsessed with being obsessed with anything from people to shows to brands to dance moves.
The most recent American obsession is debatably a positive one: health and wellness. People are getting hooked on specific diet trends (hey there, keto community), workout methods (how many of your friends have tried to peer pressure you into doing Soul Cycle? It’s a cult, I’m sure of it…), and all sorts of data monitors and trackers that report our health stats to us constantly. We can know how many steps are taken, calories burned, and minutes slept at the glance, and we can easily find out how many Oreo cookies our strict diets can afford us at 10:08pm on a Tuesday night.
Oh, I’m the only one cheating on my diet? Yeah right! Diets are infamous for being broken, why else are there currently over 11+ major apps that purport to help people stay on-track? In this industry report, we’re taking a look at key dieting apps and how they’re sponsoring over time to not only attract new customers but build a cult following that drives organic mentions for them. We’ll also be breaking down key workout influencers and which brands are dominating the fitness space. And most importantly, we’ll be forecasting the future of natural, vegan, and superfoods through some handy analytics from the ThoughtLeaders platform.
Dieting dynamos dominate podcast
We’re all familiar with fad diets like Atkins, South Beach, Paleo (AKA the “caveman” diet), and Keto. Most people will tell you that all diets are alike in the end: a balance between restricted eating, elimination or reduction of certain macronutrient groups and other lifestyle elements like sleep patterns, hydration, and physical activity.
Lately, diets aren’t marketing themselves so much as a playbook on how to lose weight, but more so as a method to change your lifestyle to fit the health-obsessed culture we are seeing on the rise in the US.
Just look at diet app Noom, who says they AREN’T a diet app. Noom’s website states: “Most diets aren't effective or safe. Learn healthy weight-loss habits with Noom. Virtual Coaching. Long Term Weight Loss. 14 Day Trial. Services: Weekly 1-on-1 Appointment, Daily Lessons, Tracking Tools, Support Groups.”
See what I’m saying? They’re a cult. Kidding. In all seriousness, they’re focusing on community building and small habit changes for long-term results, and they help people stay on track using a handy app.
Noom is appearing almost exclusively in Lifestyle content and is favoring podcast over YouTube, where they still appear to be testing out channels. In fact, of the new tests in the past month, 7 of 10 of them were new YouTube channels that Noom is exploring. On the flip side, in the past month, all of their podcast sponsorships have been on channels where they already sponsored at least 4 times. That shows a strong ROI from their podcast lineup.
Here’s where it really gets interesting: when we run a custom keyword search in the Lifestyle category, we can really see which “lifestyle” content Noom is succeeding in sponsoring. Searches for “mom” and “healthy” actually appeared more than “diet” and “weight loss” or “lose weight”. Noom has defined itself as a healthy habits maker and lifestyle changer for women, rather than a blanket weight loss solution, and their sponsored content is driving this brand image:
Perfect Keto has figured out that female lifestyle content is a winner, like Noom, but has taken it to the extreme:
Almost 70% of their content features discussions about moms, being a mom, women’s pop culture - think Bachelor episode reviews - fashion advice and beauty tips for women, women’s running and fitness podcasts… the list goes on.
However, Perfect Keto doesn’t mind positioning themselves as a weight loss or dieting solution. In fact, the keywords “clean foods”, “superfoods”, “clean eating”, and “detox” appear much more frequently in the content they’re sponsoring than does more general terms like “habits” and “make a change”, which is the type of language Noom likes to use when promoting their program.
There are many more dieting, weight loss, and healthy lifestyle apps on the rise in sponsored content, and we’re keeping an eye on these top 5 challengers to Perfecto Keto and Noom:
HIDDEN GEM: Intermittent fasting is a key factor in dieting, and the apps above focus heavily on water intake. It follows that Noom and Perfect Keto’s best sponsorship relationships should be prime real estate for water bottles like Hidrate (an innovative flashing water bottle that tells you when to drink more water). I've noticed in our content feed that the most mentions of "water bottle" are linked to videos also discussing "intermittent fasting". This would be a genius video format to sponsor on YouTube since intermittent fasting often requires a person to drink a ton of water to offset periods of fasting. We’ve identified at least 29 channels sponsored by Perfect Keto, Whoop, and Noom more than 3 times in the past 6 months that talk about intermittent fasting almost 100 times. Want to see the playbook? Chat with us.
Meal prep nation
Most of these apps have a built-in section to track macro intake (how many carbs, fats, and proteins you’re eating a day), and some of the influencers that Noom and Perfect Keto leverage to promote their programs mention that “meal prep” is one of the main ways to stay consistent with your eating habits. Meal prep allows people to cook food for the week in advance so that healthy eating doesn’t cost as much time or money. Meal prep removes any barriers to healthy eating that might otherwise demotivate people to continue with diet programs. We can see in our platform that mentions of “meal prep” have spiked in the past 4-5 years, correlating with the rise of “ready-to-go” food kit companies.
It’s worth noting that within this content, "vegan" has been talked about 755 times by 152 YouTubers in the past year. That’s because most of the leading meal prep and food delivery brands are targeting people with specific dietary restrictions.
A sidenote about vegans
Just check out how much content in "Health" both of these brands are sponsoring:
Athletic Greens and Four Sigmatic both appear on Hurdle podcast and also on The Tim Ferriss Show, two majorly popular Wellness Lifestyle podcasts:
At first it seems like both brands are sponsoring the same type of content. But when we run a keyword search, we find that Athletic Greens’ sponsored content mentions keywords like “health” and “athlete” in 37% of their content, compared to Four Sigmatic at only 23% (and keep in mind, Four Sigmatic has almost 3x the sponsorship relationships as Athletic Greens currently!).
On the flip side, Four Sigmatic has clearly defined themselves as a nutrition brand, heavily targeting keywords like “vegan”, “wellness”, and “healthy”: Four Sigmatic focuses on topics of food and diet in 32% of their sponsorships whereas Athletic Greens is only showing 16%.
In fact, I identified 46 total podcast and YouTube influencers from Health, Food, and Lifestyle categories that are discussing "vegan" diets, and were sponsored by Four Sigmatic and/or Athletic Greens over 240+ times. This shows that the 46 influencers are winning for these 2 brands, and are successfully promoting these health food products to vegans.
We can also look at companies like Thrive Market, who is upfront about catering to the vegan and gluten-free populations.
Thrive Market is making a killing sponsoring runner podcasts. Even though Thrive Market has done more YouTube sponsorship, recently, all of their sponsorships have been in podcast.
In fact, Thrive Market is sponsoring 13 podcasts specifically designed for runners: running newbies, mommy runners, and fitness-obsessed marathoners can all find their own special podcast. Thrive Market is sponsoring topics of running 247 TIMES from these 13 podcasts.
Every single one of their sponsorships is promoting $20 off, which is really driving traffic for them:
Thrive Market is testing both new fitness/running channels AND mommy podcasts this quarter, with at least 7 new podcast sponsorships in the past 30 days.
But Thrive Market is just a health food marketplace much like Four Sigmatic. So who are the meal prep titans in the world of sponsored content? Veterans like Blue Apron are still in the game, but newcomers like Thrive Market and HelloFresh are offering “more” and “better”: they cater to people with unique dietary needs and offer superfoods for improved nutrition.
HelloFresh is the largest meal-kit provider in the United States, and steadily growing a following in Canada and Europe. They focus heavily on health and nutrition and present themselves as somewhat of a diet program where people can be guaranteed to order healthy foods at the correct proportions, making clean eating possible on a dime in no time at all.
They’re clearly dominating YouTube, but they also have a solid podcast strategy that they've been investing more money in overtime. It’s not surprising that they’re being talked about in the food category of content, but lifestyle is an equal contender in the spaces they’re sponsoring. Sponsorship is clearly driving not only short-term interest in their products, but the influencers they’ve chosen are creating long-term customers for HelloFresh, which explains why they’ve repeated sponsorships on so many key health and lifestyle podcasts and YouTube channels.
We can see how well they drive short-term and long-term results in this particular example. They’re offering $40 off the first box for a discounted price of $19.94. This is really nice because they’re not directly mentioning their subscription fees. Subscriptions historically don’t do as well in sponsored content as the promotional offer because many consumers are gunshy to getting ripped off with cancellation fees relating to subscriptions. This is a really smart way to get people to click-thru for a discounted price and also gain traction towards the subscription on the landing page.
In fact, this sponsorship has worked so well that they’ve sponsored Designer Jen over 1000 times in the past 2 years alone, as recently as 6 days ago. Now THAT’S a strong content creator relationship - kudos to HelloFresh.
They have an amazing track record in sponsorship, actually, starting their influencer marketing journey in March 2014. Whereas we are seeing a ton more YouTube in the recent months from HelloFresh, they actually started their branded content journey in podcast.
They continued to sponsor this channel until 2017, but they definitely transitioned away from testing both podcast and the gaming content category in general. Still, it’s really interesting to see that they have thoroughly tested many of their content creator partnerships, because they continued on this podcast gaming channel 4x in 2014, plus a few more times in 2016-17. Most unsuccessful channels are not tested more than 3 times, so HelloFresh can be used as an EXCELLENT example when analyzing channels for success. Their biggest channel category is actually the 6-10 mentions test section. In total, the number of channels that saw 3+ mentions outweighs the number of channels where they tested 1-2 times.
HelloFresh should be commended for their 26.88% average successful testing rate. From our analysis, there are 52 GO TO MARKET channels for other health and food-related brands.
As for what’s remaining for their competitors? HelloFresh is testing like crazy, but we’ve still identified about 371 channels that would be a winner that they haven't’ gotten to yet: there’s clearly a race to the top!
So how well do its competitors stack up? Blue Apron is probably more of a household name than HelloFresh at this point.
Interestingly, Blue Apron has dominated podcasts much more than HelloFresh, although they both seem to have an equal YouTube (YT) presence. That’s probably due to the exclusivity agreements each company has where the podcaster or YTer cannot feature ANY OTHER meal kit brands on their channels.
In a keyword search of “healthy foods”, “nutrition”, and “dieting”, HelloFresh has both more mentions and more thought leaders than Blue Apron. That definitely can explain why Blue Apron has moved away from sponsorship in the past year: they clearly have not figured out what type of content and which types of influencers best drive sales of their meal kit service. HelloFresh has nailed down food and dieting/health lifestyle influencers and they know YT is the #1 way to drive sales right now.
In summary, HelloFresh is showing that YouTube sells meal prep kits, especially if you leverage food influencers. All in all, meal prep kit brands have realized that podcasts are not the ideal format to promote food delivery, with almost all competitors of HelloFresh preferring YouTube.
HelloFresh is continuing to scale out this strategy, which presents a huge threat to other meal kit providers. Remember, they require exclusivity with their partnerships, so the more channels they test and win on, the less available inventory there is for other meal prep kit brands.
Other brands are keeping their eyes on which channels are working for these branded content giants: Bulletproof Snack Bars has been sponsoring on 5 of the same podcasts as Thrive Market, 2 of the same channels as HelloFresh, and 2 of the same as Four Sigmatic. Of the 44 total sponsored channels we've seen Bulletproof Snacks mentioned on, that's 9, or nearly 25%, that overlaps with these other leading brands.
In looking at sponsorship strategies for health food and diet brands, it’s clear that it’s not just the type of podcast channel or YouTuber that you’re sponsoring, it’s also the content of that particular episode or video that your brand is being mentioned within that drives the most results. As we’ve identified, the cultural shift in the US to healthier habits and lifestyles has extended to influencer content as well, and unique diets have a significant followership that is very specific channel to channel.
There’s still a huge amount of opportunity for emergent brands in the health foods and dieting space, and it helps a ton that predecessors have already hit on some niche content creators like vegan and naturopath nutrition channels, running podcasts, and true crime/conspiracy channels.
But it’s equally important to avoid sponsoring content that doesn’t truly align with your target demographic, so looking at brands like Noom and Perfect Keto can show us how to design successful campaigns around differences in age, gender, and even household size/income.
Other brands can show us how to promote specific types of foods, whether it be shakes and drink supplements or protein snacks and entire meal plans.
So whether you’re a superfood brand, a health foods marketplace, a meal delivery service, or a lifestyle tracker app or program, there’s a unique strategy for success, and our platform can help you discover it. Talk with us to get a custom analysis for your brand.