A Fractured Wellness Market: Both Super-Expensive and Free, Simple Wellness Will Rise  

By Thierry Malleret, economist

HIGH-END WELLNESS: WHERE WILL IT END? The most recent Trendium from the GWI’s sister organization, the Global Wellness Summit, is about the post-pandemic surge in “super-expensive wellness”: the seemingly never-ending expansion of very high-priced wellness products and services that benefit the upper decile in terms of income and wealth. For some in the upper decile of the upper decile (the 0.1%), nothing seems too much, with ergonomic treadmills co-branded with luxury brands like Dior (price tag: slightly below $10K) or monogrammed dumbbells becoming standard products, though it’s difficult to argue what their contribution in improving physical performance or wellness could actually be. 

As the world’s ultra-high-net-worth population (those with more than $30 million in assets) rose by 24% in the first year of the pandemic (according to Credit Suisse’ Global Wealth report) and the number of millionaires expanded to reach almost 60 million, high- and top-end wellness consumption are destined to increase even further 

Why does this matter? For two reasons. (1) Investing in positional goods that deliver little apparent value (apart from status signalling) can be perceived as a sign that the degree of inequality has gone badly wrong. This gives credence to those who’ve been arguing for a while that severe inequalities could threaten the legitimacy of our society’s’ institutional structures, which in turn demands nothing short of a redefinition of our social contract. (2) It gives a bad name to the wellness industry at large. While many wellness companies do simultaneously well (for themselves) and good (for their customers and other stakeholders), a few that benefit from severe “consumer excess” become the focus of the rising cynicism about the industry.   

WELLNESS FADS VS. WELLNESS SIMPLICITY – Wellness is such an expansive industry with such attraction power that it inevitably creates fads, popular trends which, like in fashion, come and go. In essence, wellness is not a consumer endeavour, but many companies frame it as such, well aware that in a very crowded market, the monetization of offerings often depends on good marketing and a seductive narrative. This is the source of the endless fads in food, fitness, self-care, and other wellness segments and intersects with the issues of “super-expensive wellness” and “wellness inequality” highlighted above.  

Many “formulas” for wellbeing are straightforward, highly effective but hardly monetizable, and thus often take a back seat with wellness companies. The reason is simple: there is no money to be made in telling people to eat fruits and vegetables, to sleep enough, or to simply go for a walk. But during the pandemic, people globally rushed to free or very affordable wellness–whether hiking, camping, wild swimming, or starting a home garden–and as we emerge from the pandemic, nature and back-to-basic, beautifully simple wellness approaches are becoming more aspirational than expensive and trendy products.  

It’s time to think harder about the respective wellbeing effects of non-monetizable activities (like walking for physical wellbeing and small acts of kindness for mental wellbeing) versus fads that purport to deliver wellbeing benefits, but do not in a manner commensurate with the investment required. A cost-benefit analysis for wellness is due!  

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