WASHINGTON, DC — November 4, 2003 — American shoppers are increasingly aware of the role food and nutrition play in managing and maintaining health, and they are taking a variety of actions to meet their self-care objectives, according to a new study by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and PREVENTION magazine, Shopping for Health 2003: Whole Health for the Whole Family. While 87 percent of consumers believe that healthy eating is a better way to manage illness than medication, the 12th annual report finds that consumers’ shopping habits are largely driven by convenience, cost and nutritional information, and that children have a significant influence on purchasing behavior.   

“As shoppers consider herbal remedies, organic foods, make choices for their children’s lunches and decide where to learn about weight loss and healthy eating, food retailers and wholesalers are positioned to play a vital role in improving nutritional lifestyles of consumers.” said Janice Jones, Food Marketing Institute director of research.

“Consumers know the healing power of food, but run into the challenges of inconvenience, cost and confusing information when they shop for healthy foods,” said Martha Schumacher, marketing research manager for women’s health at Rodale, Inc., which publishes PREVENTION.

Barriers to Healthy Eating: Convenience, Cost, Confusion

Many consumers believe that healthy meals must be fixed at home but that they do not have the time to prepare them, so they turn to prepackaged, take-out and fast-food meals. While fifty percent of consumers complain that fast-food is “not at all” healthful, 70 percent still buy prepared foods. Working women (33 percent) and younger shoppers more frequently cited time constraints as a reason for not eating more nutritious meals.

Healthful prepared foods are especially important to working women, younger shoppers, minorities and those with poor diets. Working women struggle to find time to cook and value healthy, ready-to-eat options. Gen X/Y shoppers place more importance on healthy prepared food options, possibly because they are less experienced with food preparation. Consumers who say their diets could be “a lot” healthier also seek healthy packaged/prepared foods.

Shoppers say that healthy foods are not only time consuming to prepare, but more costly than less healthy foods. Thirty percent of nutritionally struggling consumers cite the cost of healthy foods as a major reason they do not eat better. Shoppers with children, particularly single parents (41 percent), are more likely to say the expense of healthy foods is a major barrier to a more nutritious family diet.

The recent flurry of news coverage on obesity is not being ignored by today’s shoppers. As of 2000, 65 percent of American adults are overweight and 31 percent are obese. This rampant weight gain is spreading to children as 15 percent of children ages 6 - 19 are overweight. However, while more than 80 percent of shoppers are already making “a lot” or “some” effort to eat healthfully, they remain confused about what is healthy. Consumers say they need constant reminders and education about what is really best for them. According to the survey, 45 percent of shoppers strongly agree that “in the next five years, it’s very likely that the experts will have a completely different idea about which foods are healthy and which are not.”

Single parents are especially concerned with the changing nutritional rules since they may not have time to keep up with new information. Nearly two-thirds of single parent shoppers (64 percent) strongly agree that the experts are likely to change their definitions of “healthy foods.”

“Consumers receive so much conflicting information on what is healthy and what is not that they often are confused about the best way to maintain a nutritious diet,” said FMI’s Jones. “These barriers are areas of opportunity for supermarkets to help consumers manage their health by providing valuable nutrition information and convenient, healthy meal options.”

Consumers Seek Whole Health Solutions

Nearly 85 percent of shoppers say one-stop shopping is “very” or “somewhat” important to them, particularly to working women, parents (especially single parents), minorities and younger shoppers. Six out of ten shoppers (62 percent) rate their current store as “excellent” or “good” in providing all food and health needs in one place. When asked which type of store does the best job in providing all the products needed to maintain health, shoppers named a typical supermarket (35 percent) first, followed by discount stores (22 percent), drug stores (15 percent), health and natural food stores (13 percent) and health and nutrition stores like GNC (8 percent). In-store pharmacies are another factor in the whole-health solution and 70 percent of shoppers feel it is a “very” or “somewhat” important feature in an ideal grocery store.

Children Influence Purchases as Parents Shop for Nutrition

Parents strive to balance the menu preferences and the nutritional needs of their families as they make choices in the supermarket. One third of shoppers have children who accompany them to the store or influence the food purchases for the household. Most parents are concerned about buying foods that are healthy and 54 percent strongly disagree that “the nutritional quality of our family meals is less important to me than just getting my kids to eat without complaining.”

Parents who are managing their own diets and those with healthy weights are more likely than other shoppers to make the effort to keep their children’s diets nutritious. Overweight parents are more likely to compromise the nutritional quality of a meal in order to have a complaint-free dinner.

The study also finds that parents are concerned with healthy lunches for school children. Forty-five percent of parents say their children eat lunch in the school cafeteria every day, while only 12 percent send a brown-bag lunch five days a week. Although cafeteria lunches provide more convenience for busy parents who do not have time to prepare a bagged lunch, 58 percent of the parents surveyed view the latter as a more nutritious option. Only 26 percent of parents who rely on the school cafeteria to feed their children are very satisfied with the quality of the food.

Organics Are Healthy Food of Choice

The popularity of organic food products continues to increase as shoppers seek a healthier diet. However, while sixty percent of shoppers feel that organic foods are healthier than non-organic foods, only 39 percent say they prefer to buy organic versions of the foods they normally eat. Growth in the organic food market is likely to come from shoppers already using these products: 62 percent say they will buy additional organic products. Despite interest in organic foods, only 31 percent of shoppers noticed the new “USDA Organic” label on food products.

The most popular organic foods are fruits and vegetables, with 37 percent of shoppers purchasing these products regularly. According to 23 percent of consumers, long-term health benefits are the primary reason for buying organic foods.

To order a copy of Shopping for Health 2003: Whole Health for the Whole Family, ($30 retailer/wholesaler members; $64 associate members; $75 nonmembers), visit the FMI Store at www.fmi.org/pub/.

Food Marketing Institute (FMI) conducts programs in research, education, industry relations and public affairs on behalf of its 2,300 member companies — food retailers and wholesalers — in the United States and around the world. FMI’s U.S. members operate approximately 26,000 retail food stores with a combined annual sales volume of $340 billion — three-quarters of all food retail store sales in the United States. FMI’s retail membership is composed of large multi-store chains, regional firms and independent supermarkets. Its international membership includes 200 companies from 60 countries.

Prevention magazine, America’s leading health magazine, has been providing readers with the latest information on health, fitness, nutrition, and healthy, active lifestyles since 1950. It is the nation’s most authoritative, trustworthy, and innovative source for practical health information. In addition to reaching 13 million readers every month, the magazine publishes 13 special interest titles yearly; publishes international editions in Finland, Poland, and 22 Latin American countries; conducts national surveys examining important health issues; and hosts a highly acclaimed Web site, Prevention.com. Published 12 times a year, Prevention magazine is published by Rodale Inc.