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This week, we break with our usual policy of suggesting cross-merchandising ideas for the supermarket that can be found in the pages of Rodale Press’s roster of magazines, and offer a look at the broader perspective available in the annual Shopping for Health 2002: Self-Care Perspectives, Volume 1, released yesterday by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Rodale’s Prevention magazine.

According to the study, 32 percent of shoppers say the typical supermarket does the best job providing all the products needed to maintain health; 56 percent of shoppers say they purchase over-the-counter medications at their primary supermarket, 41 percent purchase vitamin and mineral supplements, 33 percent purchase herbal remedies and 24 percent purchase prescriptions there. However, the report finds that consumers are also using alternative outlets — natural food stores, vitamin and nutrition stores, and discount stores — more often, depending on the perceived strengths of the retailer.

American shoppers do think about nutrition, and they are trying to incorporate healthy eating into their daily lives. Forty-nine percent say they’re trying a lot to eat a healthy diet, and an additional 36 percent admit to making some attempt in this regard. Only 15 percent say they’re putting little or no effort toward eating a healthy diet.

However, while shoppers may be trying to eat healthfully, two-thirds admit that their diets could be improved. In fact, 16 percent say their diet could be “a lot” healthier, and 52 percent say it could be “somewhat” healthier. Only 22 percent feel their diet is “healthy enough,” while 10 percent say they have no room for improvement: their diets are “as healthy as they could possibly be.”

According to the shoppers who admit their diets could be healthier, healthy eating habits are difficult to establish because they believe nutritious foods are not convenient and easily available; they are believed to be more expensive; and confusion exists about what constitutes a healthy food. With the increasing speed of everyday life for American consumers, more than a third of shoppers (35 percent) claim that a major reason they don’t eat a healthy diet is because nutritious food options are not available from fast food and take-out restaurants, and preparing healthy meals at home requires too much time.

The cost of healthy eating is another major roadblock for 31 percent of shoppers, and a minor one to another 32 percent. Last year, only a quarter (24 percent) said cost was a major barrier, possibly an indication of shoppers’ recent worries about the economy.

Confusion also figures in some shoppers’ minds: 28 percent say that conflicting information about healthy foods is a major reason their diets are unhealthy, and another 41 percent say this has some affect on their purchasing decisions.

Still, America’s grocery shoppers have a high degree of interest in health — 40 percent actively sought out information about health and nutrition during the past year — and they have a variety of health resources available to them. In fact, the most popular sources are health care professionals (used regularly or sometimes by 69 percent of the information gathers), books (67 percent), magazines (63 percent), friends, family or neighbors (61 percent) and supermarket displays and handouts (51 percent). The information seekers don’t have just one or two favorite sources; on average, they use 5.6 different sources when looking for health information.
KC's View:
It is remarkable how big the gap seems to be between how people feel about healthy eating and how they act on their desires. There remains a lot of confusion out there about what is and isn’t healthy…and retailers can be the first line of defense against misinformation and miscalculations.

The full report is available from FMI. Check