WASHINGTON, DC — November 22, 2004 — American food shoppers are increasingly focusing on their diets to achieve good health, and they believe healthful eating is the best way to manage illness and prevent health problems later in life, according to a new report released today by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and PREVENTION magazine.

The study, Shopping for Health 2004, also shows 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.”

PREVENTION Corporate Director Advertising and Trends Research Ed Slaughter added, “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. 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 have a healthful diet and 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 agreed 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 fact, 74 percent report treating themselves first before seeing/calling a doctor. Interestingly, forty-six 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

Nutrition Labels Influence Product Purchases

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 vitamin-fortified (47 percent).

Shoppers are also purchasing products that claim to reduce the risk of disease. For example, forty-two 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.

Organic Foods Seen As Healthier Option

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.

Barriers to Healthy Eating: Cost and Confusion

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. Nearly 60 percent of shoppers believe there is 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 concerned shoppers. One in four of these shoppers cites the poor availability of healthful options at fast-food and take-out restaurants as a major reason for their poor diet, and a similar proportion (23 percent) say they are too busy to eat healthfully.

To purchase Shopping for Health 2004 ($50 FMI members; $75 associate members; $100 nonmembers), please visit the FMI Store at www.fmi.org/pub/.