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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.

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) wants 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.

Forty-six percent of shoppers surveyed said 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; and 36 percent would like their store to provide more information about weight loss.

“This country’s obesity crisis has alerted shoppers that they need to take control of their health by taking charge of their diets,” said 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 said, “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.”

Other results from 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) has decided against a purchase in recent months because of product labeling information. Sixty-three percent seek food promoted as “low fat”, 62 percent seek food promoted as “whole-grain”, 52 percent seek foods promoted as “low-calorie”, and 48 percent seek food promoted as “low-salt-sodium.”

While consumers appear to have specific needs and interests in this area, there also is a certain amount of frustration, with 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.

Perceived high cost also is an issue: 34 percent claim the high cost of healthful foods is a major reason their diets are not better.
KC's View:
These are all enormous opportunities for retailers and manufacturers. These numbers portray a consumer who is smart and wants to be smarter, and who is looking for greater amounts of information and insight that can guide them in their shopping and eating habits.

Somebody tell us why, if 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, putting Country of Origin on a label isn’t a good idea?

Some will say that it isn’t that Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) isn’t a good idea, but that mandating it – as opposed to allowing it to be voluntary – is a bad move. Which raises the question we keep asking – if COOL isn’t mandated, how many companies actually will do it?