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    Expert Column: Healthy Eating Trends for 2015

    Nielsen explores consumers' evolving desire for nutritious options

    By Susan Dunn, Nielsen

    Let’s chew the fat about healthy eating trends. In a recent Nielsen online study of more than 30,000 respondents in 60 countries, nearly half (49 percent) consider themselves overweight, and half are trying to lose weight. While diet trends come and go, fatty foods may no longer be considered the top diet enemy. In North America, 59 percent say they are cutting down on fatty foods—a decline of 14 percentage points from 2011. Meanwhile, those following a low-carb diet (23 percent) increased by 10 percentage points in that time period. Eating smaller portions (49 percent), and fewer processed foods (46 percent) are also popular methods to lose weight in the region.

    There is a tremendous opportunity for food manufacturers and retailers to lead a healthy movement by providing products and services that consumers want and need. Knowing what food attributes influence purchase decisions is the first step. Analyzing 27 attributes, such as organic, gluten-free and low-cholesterol, the ones that rise to the top of the list as most important are fresh, natural and minimally processed. In North America, foods free of genetically modified organisms (GMO) and those without high-fructose corn syrup are among the most influential in the purchase process. These same attributes are also worth more to consumers, as more than half of North Americans say they are very/moderately willing to pay a premium for them (58 percent and 55 percent, respectively). 

    Less is more for roughly three in 10 North Americans, who say it’s very important that foods are all natural (31 percent), low in salt (30 percent) and have little or no cholesterol (29 percent) and sugar (27 percent). In addition, one-quarter want foods that have low or no fat (25 percent), and just under one-fifth rate foods that are caffeine-free (16 percent) and gluten-free (15 percent) as very important.

    The growth of healthy options, however, does not automatically come at the expense of indulgent offerings. There is room for both in consumers’ diets. In North America, sales of selected healthy categories, which include fruit, vegetables, yogurt, water, tea, sports drinks and dairy-based shakes, grew 7 percent between 2012 and 2014. But indulgent categories, such as chips and chocolate also grew, 3 percent and 5 percent, respectively. However, categories higher in carbohydrates, such as cereal and carbonated soft drinks are posting year-over-year declines. To drive growth for these offerings, manufacturers should look for areas where they can improve the nutritional profile of foods and highlight the health benefits their products provide to consumers.

    Clearly, health is going mainstream. As consumers search for better, healthier and smarter solutions that fit their lifestyle and specific needs, the motivation for manufacturers and retailers to foster strategies for a healthier world is powerful. But much more needs to be done.

    More education about health and wellness claims is needed. Packaging labels are a key source of information for consumers. Three-quarters of global respondents say they read packaging labels carefully. Manufacturers and retailers need to make it easy for consumers to sort through the clutter and make informed decisions by helping them understand the benefits of particular ingredients and foods using out-of-store communications, in-store signage/displays and package claims. 

    There is also a need for greater transparency about health and wellness claims. Less than two-thirds (63 percent) of global respondents trust health claims on food packages, and the percentage is lower in North America (56 percent). Consumers view food with a skeptical eye, and the industry must be more transparent about the contents and source of foods, providing stronger scientific support for health claims to build consumer trust.

    The Nielsen Global Health & Wellness Survey was conducted between Aug. 13 and Sept. 5, 2014, and polled more than 30,000 consumers in 60 countries throughout Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America.

     

    By Susan Dunn, Nielsen
    • About Susan Dunn Susan Dunn is EVP, Global Professional Services for Nielsen, in which she leads global and North America client relationships across the consumer packaged goods industry.

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