Consumers raise nutrition information bar: NGA study

February 16, 2011

Americans, no longer in denial about their obesity, want supermarkets to help them eat healthier foods.

Easy in-store access to nutrition and health information helps guide shoppers to healthier choices – and that’s exactly what people want from their primary supermarket. This trait rocketed up the priority list last year and stays there in 2011, according to findings from the 2011 National Grocers Association-SupermarketGuru Consumer Panel Report released this week. 

This nation is coming to grips with its obesity, inspired by The First Lady and new federal nutrition guidelines. People expect supermarkets to be active, not passive, on this point. They’ve plied us with so much sugar, sodium, fat and calories through the years – now it’s time to help us make smarter decisions. 

In 2011, 37% of consumers say this is ‘very important,’ the same as in 2010; another 39% say ‘somewhat,’ which is down one point. 

Households that spend $101 and more per week on groceries make up 50% who say this is ‘very important,’ which suggests they’re building baskets with better choices. Even if they buy less junk food, it appears they still spend. Also, people with no children living at home comprise 60% who call this  ‘very important.”

What constitutes healthier purchases, and what does not, according to consumers? Here are a few examples:

  • Healthier. Organic foods. A five-point swing in its favor has, for the first time, nearly one-third of consumers (31%) stating that the presence of organic products is ‘very important’ in their choice of a supermarket. Add in 37% who say it is ‘somewhat important’ (one point higher than a year ago), and more than two-thirds of consumers factor this in. 
  • Healthier. Locally grown produce and other local packaged foods. People perceive these as healthier, safer and more nutritious. They also want to support local growers and businesses. Therefore, 86% of respondents call the presence of local foods ‘very/somewhat important’ to store choice, up from 83% in 2010 and 79% in 2009. More impressive, the ‘very’ column advances to 45% in 2011, up from 41% in 2010.
  • Healthier. Fresh seafood.  A high-quality service seafood counter is ‘very important’ to 48% of consumers in 2011; that’s up from 46% in 2010 and 42% in 2009. Add in the 29% who say ‘somewhat important’ (down from 31% in 2010, but up from 28% in 2009), and this is a pivotal area for more than three-quarters. Although fresh fish often costs shoppers more ounce for ounce, many think Omega-3s instead of marbled fat when they make their choice and feel it is worth it. Signs such as ‘wild caught’ and ‘Alaskan native’ add adventure.
  • Not so much. Fresh-food delicatessen. A five-percentage-point drop in its ‘very/somewhat important’ rating to 70% signifies a fundamental shift in food buying, meal preparation and consumption. The freshness appeal, it seems, is being thwarted by high per-pound prices and frequent long waits for service. Also, people have new skills assembling meal components with healthier choices and executing their dinners at home, so deli foods are nice to have but not a must. Just 36% say ‘very’ this time vs. 42% last year, while ‘somewhat’ respondents nudged up a point to 34%.
  • Not so much. High-quality bakery. While 71% still regard this as ‘very/somewhat important’ to their choice of a primary supermarket, that’s down five percentage points from the 2010 figure; the entire drop occurred in ‘very,’ down from 38% last year to 33% in 2011, as households cut non-necessities and excess calories from their purchases.