Washington, DC — November 19, 2001 — American consumers believe that the food they eat can make a significant difference in their health but many admit that their own diets need improvement, according to Shopping for Health 2001, released today by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Prevention magazine.

The tenth annual report also finds that consumers are purchasing more fortified foods, organic produce and prescription drugs at their primary supermarket, further strengthening food retailers’ position as a one-stop source for healthy solutions.

The report shows that American shoppers remain relatively unconcerned about genetically modified foods despite increased news coverage of the issue.

Consumers Set High Nutrition Goals But Are Slow to Take Action

Shoppers believe that the food they eat can make a significant difference in their health and well-being, and they often keep this in mind while grocery shopping. Nearly six in 10 shoppers (58 percent) feel they can greatly reduce the risk of certain diseases by eating healthfully. Three quarters (76 percent) feel that eating healthfully is a better way to manage an illness than taking medication. And almost 58 percent claim that their supermarket purchases are greatly affected by health concerns, such as following a doctor’s advice or reducing the risk of certain health conditions.

“Surely health is on the minds of Americans as they do their grocery shopping,” says Martha Schumacher, marketing research manager for women’s health at Rodale, which publishes Prevention. “But they admit they aren’t as strict with themselves as they should be, and they often allow foods they enjoy into their diets.” In fact, nearly two-thirds (64%) say they eat foods they enjoy, even if these items are not the best nutritional choices.

Still, many survey respondents admit that their diets need improvement. Seventy percent of shoppers feel their diets could be a lot or somewhat healthier, and half (51 percent) are trying “a lot” to eat healthfully. Sixty percent of shoppers blamed factors such as nutritional confusion, the perceived high cost of healthy foods, the inconvenience of preparing healthy meals, and the lack of healthy fast-food options as reasons for their own poor eating habits. Only 14 percent said they are doing little or nothing to eat a healthy diet.

One in five (20 percent) adults feels their diet is “healthful enough,” and one in ten (10 percent) claims their diet is “as healthy as it could possibly be.” Older shoppers are most likely to feel confident about their diets, followed by baby boomers and generation Xers.

“American shoppers are clearly aware of the link between a healthy diet and good health, but they are slow to incorporate this knowledge into their daily routines,” says Janice Jones, director of research at FMI. “They are seeking guidance in making these decisions, but they also want any changes to be convenient to their lifestyles.”     

Nutrition Labels, In-Store Information Influence Healthy Purchasing Decisions

In trying to make healthy choices at the supermarket, shoppers are looking at nutrition labels more often and seeking health information within the store. The survey finds that 52 percent of shoppers look at the nutrition facts label when they buy a product for the first time. In fact, 26 percent of shoppers purchased a food item because of information on the Nutrition Facts label, and 34 percent decided against a purchase because of nutrition label information or a lack thereof.

Shoppers’ desire for health and nutrition information extends beyond the package label. Nearly half (44 percent) have actively sought health and nutrition information within the store, up from 36 percent in 2000. Magazines and books are the most popular sources for information (75 and 72 percent, respectively), followed closely by health care professionals (63 percent) and family/friends (58 percent).

Supermarkets Fast Becoming One-Stop Whole Health Solution

“Supermarkets are in a prime position to serve the self-care consumer,” says Jones. “In addition to offering food, they are providing customers with a broad range of self-care products and free or reduced-cost services, such as screenings and vaccinations, consultations with an in-store pharmacist or nutritionist, and printed information.”

The fast-growing interest in self-care is being led by baby boomers (aged 37-55), representing 30 percent of the U.S. population, according to the report. Their obsession with maintaining good health and a pleasant appearance is driving expenditures for products that treat conditions like hair loss, smoking addiction, weight gain and erectile dysfunction; and for services such as spas, elective surgeries and nutrition advice. These same consumers are also increasing purchases of self-care products, such as nutritional supplements, natural remedies, over-the-counter and prescription medicines, and organic foods.

Among all age groups, over-the-counter medications remain the most popular health product, purchased by 86 percent of shoppers, up from 79 percent last year. Over three-quarters (78 percent) buy foods fortified with vitamins and minerals, and nearly as many (74 percent) buy vitamin and mineral supplements. Sixty-eight percent purchase prescription medicines if pharmacy services are available at their store.

Organic Sales Rise, Consumers Show Limited Concern for Genetically Modified Foods

More than 4 in 10 consumers (42 percent) have bought some type of organic food to improve their health. Within that group, 34 percent have bought organic fruits and vegetables and 21 percent organic cereals, breads and pastas. This trend is reflected in annual sales of organic foods, which jumped from $6.5 billion in 1999 to $7.8 billion in 2000.

“Organic shoppers are generally younger with better educations and higher incomes,” mentions Schumacher. “Shoppers who are really working at their health are especially likely to include organic foods — particularly fruits and vegetables — in their diets.”

The report suggests that the steady rise in sales of organic products is being driven mostly by concerns over insecticides and artificial additives, and less by concerns over bioengineering.

Despite extensive media coverage of genetically modified foods in the past year, shoppers appear to have limited knowledge about this subject. In fact, only 12 percent of shoppers claimed to have heard or read much about such products, and more than 60 percent of these shoppers believe various applications of agricultural biotechnology are acceptable.

Survey respondents also showed acceptance of irradiation, an FDA-approved food safety process that uses electron beams to kill harmful pathogens. More than half (57 percent) of shoppers said they would be “somewhat” or “very likely” to buy irradiated foods if available.

Men Women Share Similar Health Goals, But Differ in Behavior

Although the factors that encourage interest in self-care are the same for both sexes, men and women have different priorities when it comes to shopping for health, according to the report.

Both genders have become less trusting of their doctors’ advice in the past year – 29 percent of men and 32 percent of women. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of both groups have become more likely to treat themselves for common illnesses before seeing a doctor. And both men and women recognize a connection between diet and health, with 46 percent of men and 53 percent of women claiming that they try “a lot” to eat healthy.

Women tend to be more vigilant in self-care shopping. More than half (53 percent) have purchased a food product in the past month because they believed the product offered a specific health benefit, compared with 45 percent of men. Women are also more likely to check the nutrition facts label and to seek out health information, from both printed materials and from health care professionals.

Both groups claim that having all food and health needs in one place is very important, according to the study. More than half of male shoppers (55 percent) and nearly two-thirds of women (64 percent) say one-stop shopping is very important in their ideal store. Men and women also agree that supermarkets do the best job of providing all of the products needed to maintain good health.

Survey Methodology

Survey data for Shopping for Health 2001 were obtained from telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,200 adults. Respondents have primary or equally shared responsibility for their household’s grocery shopping, and they had shopped for groceries in the two-week period prior to being interviewed. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

To obtain a copy of Shopping for Health 2001 ($35 FMI members/$70 nonmembers) contact FMI Publications and Video Sales (202-220-0723) or visit the FMI Web site (http://www.fmi.org/pub/).