IFIC Functional Foods 2011 Survey, Part I

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August 26, 2011

IFIC Functional Foods 2011 Survey, Part I

Americans want to take advantage of the health benefits of foods, according to the 2011 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Survey. The survey asked questions from a random sample of 1,000 U.S. adults about various attitudes toward health and consumer awareness of 34 different diet and health relationships.

Americans want to take advantage of the health benefits of foods, according to the 2011 IFIC Functional Foods/Foods for Health Survey. The survey asked questions from a random sample of 1,000 U.S. adults about various attitudes toward health and consumer awareness of 34 different diet and health relationships.

The majority of those surveyed (73%) say that food and nutrition are responsible for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, with exercise (63%) following close behind. Eighty-seven percent of participants believe that certain foods have health benefits that go beyond basic nutrition. An overwhelming 90% of those surveyed can name a food and its associated benefit (compared to 77% in 1998).

The top ten functional foods named by participants in this study are fruits and vegetables (70%), fish and fish oil (18%), dairy (16%), herbs and spices (10%), whole grains (10%), fiber (7%), meat and poultry (7%), tea and green tea (5%), nuts (4%) and vitamins and supplements (2%). Fruits and veggies are overwhelmingly number one in terms of what consumers perceive as functional foods, but Elizabeth Rahavi, RD, Associate Director, Health and Wellness for International Food Information Council and Foundation, says we can broaden Americans' perspective about functional foods.

"When we communicate about health benefits, it's helpful to remember that the functional foods that aren't necessarily top of mind for consumers, like nuts, tea, fiber, whole grains and dairy, are also nutritious food choices. While important, it's not just fruits and vegetables. There are lots of healthful components in a variety of great tasting foods and beverages that can make a difference in our health," says Rahavi.

Functional foods are defined as food and components of foods that are believed to improve overall health, reduce the risk of specific diseases, and minimize the effects of other health concerns. The survey found that 87% (vs. 85% in 2009) are interested in learning more about foods with benefits, which makes sense when almost one in five Americans (19%) cite healthy aging as a top health concern, 46% cite cardiovascular disease, 32% cite weight and 22% cite cancer.

Consumers said calcium (92%) was the top benefit derived from functional foods for bone health (along with vitamin D at 90%), protein (87%) and B vitamin (86%) were mentioned as good for overall health, omega-s fatty acids (85%) took the reigns for heart health, and probiotics (81%) and fiber (79%) were identified as good for digestive health.

Still, even with all this knowledge out there – and the fact that consumer awareness of functional foods has significantly increased since 1998 – consumption levels of these key food components have generally not changed since 2005. The struggle to further incorporate functional foods, consumers say, has to do with expense, taste and availability. Also, only slight more than half (57%) feel they have enough information to understand which foods provide an added benefit.

"The bottom line is that the solution to overcoming these barriers will have to be tailored to the individual and for each functional component. We can further motivate people by creating greater awareness about the functional foods that they may already be consuming, whether it's whole grain cereal for breakfast or yogurt as a snack. Let people know what they are doing well, and then work within a framework to identify their next step on their path toward better health,”"says Rahavi.

Most consumers (78%) agree that functional foods can make a meaningful impact on their health when they consume them, and knowing that these foods are good for their health is a good reason (76%) for consumers to eat them more often.

"We still have a big mountain to climb in terms of changing consumers' purchasing behaviors. Providing practical and positive messages that connect taste with health will go a long way in helping consumers move toward better health,” adds Rahavi.

Check back next month to read Part II of our discussion on the 2011 Functional Foods/Foods for Health Consumer Trending Survey, which will feature an in-depth interview on the topic with Elizabeth Rahavi, RD, Associate Director, Health and Wellness for IFIC.

This article is from the upcoming issue of Food, Nutrition & Science. Click here for more.