ARLINGTON, VA–July 18, 2011–A shift in thinking is happening in supermarket aisles across the country according to Shopping for Health 2011, the 19th in a yearly study released today by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Prevention, and published by Rodale Inc. What used to matter most to shoppers is which undesirable characteristics their foods were devoid of: fat, sugar, salt, calories, etc. Now, fortification and the inclusion of key health ingredients are on the rise, with fiber (44%) being the most sough-after component; whole grain (36%), protein (27%), Omega-3 (23%) and antioxidants (16%) follow.

“While the main criteria for healthy foods was previously determined by ingredients it did not contain, today’s shoppers are now instead wondering what’s in their food, seeking to better understand the nutritional components of what they eat,” says the Director of Consumer Insights for Prevention, Cary Silvers.

About half of shoppers have bought cranberry juice, dark chocolate, or almonds in the past year, probably because there have been marketing campaigns and news coverage touting the health benefits of these so-called “superfoods,” so dubbed because they contain large quantities of specific nutrients. Shoppers are also purchasing green tea (43%), pomegranate juice (25%), and greek yogurt (21%).

Certain health claims are also proving to be attractive to customers. When purchasing food, heart health (73%) is the top health claim on packaging that matters to consumers. More energy (71%), digestive health (66%), and improving mind health (65%) follow closely behind.

Despite this attention to healthy foods, lack of planning is trumping health in the decision-making process at the American dinner table, as 72% of shoppers decide what to have for dinner that day. When same day decisions for dinner are made, health (52%) falls well behind few taste (73%), quickness of preparation (60%) and craving (52%). Lack of meal planning is so pervasive that one-in-four shoppers (24%) decide what to have for dinner within one hour before eating.

“The annual Shopping for Health survey is an invaluable source of information for the food industry," says Publisher of Prevention Laura Petasnick. “Each year, together with FMI, Prevention is able to uncover American’s true habits, desires and behaviors from the supermarket aisles to their nightly dinner routine.”

“Helping food retailers provide their customers with the information they need to make nutritious choices and develop healthy eating habits remains a clarion call for FMI,” says Leslie G. Sarasin, president and chief executive officer for FMI. “As schedules become busier and awareness of health issues increase, the consumer demand for healthful options that are quick and easy for families will grow.”

Healthy Eating

-Shoppers can take many routes to healthy eating, from how they shop to how they prepare food to how they eat. Substantial numbers make an effort in each of these areas.

  • 44%, use a list when shopping for healthy food most of the time.

  • 54% have tried a new healthy recipe in the past year.

  • Half of shoppers say they don’t actively monitor their calorie intake on a daily basis but do make an effort not to consume too many calories at a time.

  • About half say they are paying more attention to consuming fewer calories than they did two years ago; the same share say they are paying the amount of attention; and just 6% say they are paying less attention.

Taking Another Look at Labels

-Most shoppers generally read food labels, but that share has dropped the last few years, from 71% in 2007 and 2008 to 67% in 2009 and 64% in 2010.

-Even though they say they are not reading labels as much, shoppers are increasingly likely to say they are buying more food products with certain types of labels; attention has shifted slightly away from the unhealthy side of things (trans and saturated fats, sugar/sweeteners, calories) to the healthy side (fiber, whole grains, vitamins/minerals, and protein content). In other words, people seem to be more proactively looking for the healthful ingredients.

  • More than half say they have been buying more whole-grain products in the past year, for example, at 5%, up 6 points from 2009.

  • The shares are also up for low sodium (42%, up 8 points), all-natural (28%, up 6), low fat (41%, up 4), and lower/less/zero calories (28%, up 4)

-About one in five shoppers say they have seen nutrition labels on the front of food packages. Whether or not they have seen such labels, 61% feel they would be an improvement over traditional labels on the back or side of packages.

Switching versus Cutting Back

-Between 2008 and 2010, shoppers became more likely to say they would either cut down on or cut out cookies and less likely to say they would switch to 100-calorie packs. This latter decline may point to the failure of prepackaged portion control as a healthy diet tactic.

-50% of shoppers say that if they wanted to eat healthier when it comes to salad dressing, soup, yogurt, and crackers, they would either buy a healthier alternative of the same product, substitute with a different product, or switch to a 100-calorie pack where applicable.

Healthy Shopping: Timing Is Everything

-Three in four shoppers say they make most of their food and beverage purchase decisions before they get to the store, although they do not plan their meals that far ahead of time.

  • Half of shoppers say they decide what to eat for dinner the same day, and another one in four decide within an hour of the meal.

  • Beverage choices are made even closer to dinnertime – 62 percent within the hour.

  • Younger adults are even more spontaneous than average; one-third of Gen Y and Gen X say they make dinner decisions within the hour before they eat.

-Another element of spontaneity comes in when people think about what they want for dinner in the context of what they know they have in their pantry.

  • Only about half of shoppers make most dinners at home with the ingredients they have on hand – 53 percent say they do this at least four out of five weekdays. This means that almost half are doing fill-in shopping using such tactics as shopping for frozen, fresh, prepared, or missing ingredients or getting take-out from restaurants for dinner at least a few days a week.

Refocusing on Kids’ Health Needs

-Parents have regained some of the focus they had lost in 2009 on their children’s health needs. The share of parents who say they “always” make certain food purchases because they are nutritious for their children grew to 46%, up 11 points from 2009 and back to its 2007 level. A similar share, 47%, say they do this “sometimes,” leaving just 7 percent who do it “not very often” or “never”.

-Parents are also more likely than a year ago to say they “serve healthy options all the time” when it comes to breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacks – in all cases resurging to or exceeding 2008 levels. Dinners are the most consistently healthy meals, at 65%, followed by breakfasts, at 59%. Lunches and snacks are tied at 47%.

Organic and Natural Foods

-There was an up-tick in shoppers reporting any of a host of organic food purchases in the past six months compared with 2009 levels, up to 45% from 40%.

-Fruits and vegetables still top the organic list, although dairy and eggs edged past cereal/bread/pasta and meat/poultry edged past packaged foods.

-Cost is still the main reason why shoppers do not buy organic food, cited by 67%.

-Six in ten shoppers report having purchased a food or beverage product labeled as “natural” in the past year. Among this group, the greatest numbers say they purchased natural cheese (39%), yogurt (33%), tea (33%), and cereal (31%).

The Shopping for Health survey of America’s supermarket shoppers examines their interests and attitudes regarding health and nutrition, their efforts to manage diets, and the ways in which health and nutritional concerns play out in buying decisions at the supermarket. To purchase Shopping for Health 2011, visit the FMI Store