Purchasing Influences

October 23, 2009

Taste still matters, according to findings in the International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) 2009 Food and Health Survey.

Taste still matters, according to findings in the International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) 2009 Food and Health Survey. The annual survey, which provides insight into how consumers view their own diets and their efforts to improve them, found that 87% of Americans (up from 84% in 2008) trust their taste buds more than any other influencing factor when filling their grocery cart.

In these troubling economic times, price plays a significant role too. Significantly increasing in importance since 2006 (74% chose price as an influential purchasing factor in 2009 vs. 72% in 2007 and 64 percent in 2006), price matters most to consumers who are between the ages of 25 and 34, have made changes to their diets in the past six months, and who agree that reading or hearing about food and health is of interest to them.

Katie Burns, Program Coordinator for Food Safety & Defense for IFIC, says that the degree of impact that price has also increased, with 43% of Americans now stating that price has a great impact on their purchasing decisions versus some impact (31%). 

Items like convenience (52%) and healthfulness (61%) were ranked lower in priority but still carry weight. Women, Caucasians and those aged 65 or older are more interested in the healthfulness of a product than consumers in other categories, while African Americans and younger American more strongly value convenience.
Interesting, convenience is also valued more highly by those who perceive themselves to be an obese weight, those who perceive their physical activity level to be sedentary, and those who are dissatisfied with their health status. Conversely, Americans more interested in a product’s health tend to perceive their health as very good or excellent, are satisfied with their health status and say a belief in making healthful food choices has the greatest impact on maintaining good health.

“While it is possible to build a healthy and convenient diet, we do find that many Americans choose either convenience or health when buying food,” says Burns. “People tell us they want to know how to eat healthy. We can help them achieve better diets by showing ways they can choose both convenience and health – like paying attention to portion size when eating out and having lots of fruits and vegetables on hand for a quick and easy snack.” 

Americans who believe healthfulness has a great impact on their food purchasing decisions are more likely to use multiple sources of information on a package to determine if that product meets their health standards. When looking at all the information on a package, 69% look first at the Nutrition Facts panel, 67% at the expiration date, 50% at the brand name, 49% at the ingredients and 20% at statements about health benefits.

Meanwhile, 42% of consumers agree that food and health information is confusing and conflicting. However, the good news is that the majority of Americans (67%) agree that reading or hearing about the relationship between food and health is of interest to them. More should be done to boost consumer understanding, especially considering the important connection consumers clearly make between identifying the healthfulness of a product and the influence of the product’s perceived “healthfulness” on a resulting purchase. 

“People like learning about food and health and look to a variety of sources, but when getting information from so many sources, it's easy for it to become a little confusing,” says Burns. “Americans want to hear positive messages about what to eat, rather than negative messages about what not to eat. And this indicates that there is a shared responsibility among retailers, food manufacturers, nutrition educators, policy makers, health professionals, and public health advocates to reach consumers through the resources they use to empower them to make informed food choices as part of a healthful lifestyle.”

This article is a sneak peek into Monday's issue of Food, Nutrition & Science.

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