By Thierry Malleret, economist
With a global elite now so preoccupied by inequality and the dangers that come with it, corporate social activism is about to rise decisively – bringing far-reaching negative implications for companies that do not behave and conform as “good citizens.” Private and institutional investors (including the world’s largest: Blackrock and its $6 trillion of assets under management) are increasingly demanding that companies think longer-term and address the issue of their net contribution to society.
On several occasions, in past editions, we discussed the relevance of corporate social activism as a strong tailwind for the wellness industry: It is a “super-positive” megatrend for many segments of the industry, ranging from organic food to wellness travel. There is, however, another dimension worth considering when looking at the intersection of global elites, inequality and wellness.
Increasingly, wellness corresponds to what economists define as a “positional good” and sociologists call “virtue signalling.” Often, it is the preserve of the wealthy. In other words, a marker of success - something particularly evident in Anglo-Saxon cultures that celebrate commercial wellness practices more than anywhere else in the world and where wellness consumption occasionally comes with a sense of moral superiority.
What does it mean and what are the consequences? First, democratizing wellness and making it more accessible will be one of the industry’s major challenges over the next years.
Second, conspicuous consumption of wellness goods (like a very posh spa) will become less dominant and replaced by goods with scarcity value (like choosing a “well” neighbourhood that doesn’t require a car). More and more, the consumption of intangible wellness goods (a less polluted local environment, access to fresh local food, the ability to reconnect with nature, etc.) will replace that of tangible goods that most people already have (a membership for the gym, a wearable of some kind, etc.).