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WASHINGTON - American food shoppers are increasingly focusing on their diets as a way to achieve good health, according to a new report released today by the Food Marketing Institute and Prevention magazine.
The study, "Shopping for Health 2004," claims that consumers are paying more attention to nutrition labels, purchasing more organic foods for health benefits, and taking a greater interest in health and nutrition news.
"This country's obesity crisis has alerted shoppers that they need to take control of their health by taking charge of their diets," stated FMI director of research Anne-Marie Roerink. "In addition, they are increasingly looking to their local supermarkets and other food retailers for effective, long-range solutions."
"Today's consumers are more aware of diet and nutrition, and they express a strong desire to live a healthier lifestyle than they do now," said Ed Slaughter, corporate director, advertising and trends research at Prevention. "Trouble is, they remain confused by the numerous claims about what exactly 'healthy' means."
More than one-third (34 percent) of shoppers surveyed believe they already have a healthful diet, while 55 percent say they are trying "a lot" to eat more healthfully. Fifty-nine percent want to lose weight, but they have different objectives for doing so. The majority (77 percent) want to prevent health problems later in life. Other reasons: manage current health problem (54 percent), boost self-confidence (44 percent), and to look younger (20 percent).
In addition, more than half of shoppers (56 percent) strongly agree that eating healthfully is a better way to manage illness than taking medications, and 59 percent claim to be eating healthfully so they can avoid health problems later in life. In addition, 74 percent of consumers report treating themselves first before seeing/calling a doctor. In terestingly, 46 percent report that they have become less trusting of the advice of health professionals in the past year.
Shoppers also indicated that they are seeking more healthful solutions from manufacturers and retailers:
- 46 percent want their store to offer a greater quantity of nutritious prepared foods
- 45 percent are seeking more foods without trans fatty acids
- 40 percent want more low-fat foods
- 39 percent want more low-carb choices
- 36 percent would like their store to provide more information about weight loss
Shoppers are increasingly influenced by the Nutrition Facts labels on food packages, and many are changing their purchasing decisions based on the information contained in these labels. According to the survey, 83 percent of shoppers regularly look at the Nutrition Facts chart when buying a product for the first time, and 91 percent will make a purchasing decision based on this information. More than one-fourth (26 percent) have decided against a purchase in recent months, because of product labeling information.
In addition to the Nutrition Facts panels, shoppers are looking for specific product claims.
The most sought-after claims:
- 63 percent seek food promoted as "low-fat"
- 62 percent seek food promoted as "whole grain"
- 52 percent seek foods promoted as "low-calorie"
- 48 percent seek food promoted as "low-salt/sodium"
Apart from package labels and claims asserting that foods are low in certain characteristics, many shoppers buy products because they're high in certain nutrients. For example, roughly one-half of all shoppers say they have purchased foods with package claims of being high in calcium (51 percent), vitamin C (51 percent), or are vitamin-rich or -fortified (47 percent).
Shoppers are also purchasing products that claim to reduce the risk of disease. For example, 42 percent say they've purchased foods claiming to reduce their risk of developing heart disease, and 26 percent have purchased products that claim to reduce the risk of cancer.
Shoppers appear to be buying increasing quantities of organic foods for perceived health benefits. Fruits and vegetables remain the strongest organic category, with dairy products showing the strongest growth in recent years. Organic products purchased in past six months:
- Fruits and vegetables: 37 percent
- Dairy: 24 percent
- Cereals, breads, and pastas: 24 percent
Organic shoppers are more likely to make their purchases at a typical grocery store (43 percent), but specialty retail stores such as health food and natural food stores and farmers markets still attract a large portion of the market. Of those shoppers that regularly buy organic foods, most indicated that the availability of health and nutrition information is very important and that they will go out of their way to shop at stores that teach them about healthful eating.
Shoppers are taking more interest in information, including news stories, about health and nutrition, but many find the information confusing. In fact, shoppers think major media outlets do only a fair or poor job of providing nutrition information in an understandable way, according to the study. Nearly 60 percent of shoppers believe there's too much conflicting information in coverage of nutrition issues, particularly what constitutes a healthy diet, and 30 percent feel the confusion contributes to an unhealthy diet.
Shoppers cite the higher cost of healthier foods as another barrier to healthful eating. Among shoppers whose diets could be more healthful, 34 percent claim the high cost of healthful foods is a major reason their diets are not better.
The majority of shoppers, however, believe that their primary supermarket offers sufficient healthful food options. In fact, only 6 percent of those shoppers who say their diets could be more healthful blame the limited availability of healthful foods at their local grocery store, suggesting that there could be a significant market opportunity for food retailers and manufacturers to offer healthful foods at a lower cost, and that these offerings may entice shoppers to make more healthful purchases.
The issues of convenience and availability are also problematic for health-conscious shoppers. One in four of these shoppers cite the poor availability of healthful options at fast-food and takeout restaurants as a major reason for their poor diet, and a similar proportion (23 percent) say they are too busy to eat healthfully.