Retailers can help shoppers make connections with Dietary Guidelines

March 22, 2011

Our consumer panel teaches us that they would like to follow the USDA Dietary Guidelines, but could us a little help from their supermarket.

Every five years, the USDA updates the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and 2010 marked the year for the latest recommendations. The new guidelines push a more plant-based diet as research has shown that Americans are not getting enough fruits and vegetables. Developed to tackle America's obesity epidemic, the guidelines also call for reductions in salt, fat and sugar and encourage management of portion sizes. We wanted to know how shoppers feel about following the guidelines and how helpful they feel their supermarkets are in doing so. Here is what we found.

When asked how much attention shoppers pay to the USDA Dietary Guidelines, we found that 42% try to follow them as a long-term healthy way to eat. That's quite a lot considering how widespread obesity has become in this country. Perhaps many "try" to follow the guidelines, but need a little more help in succeeding and following through? Another 32% say they read them, but the guidelines don't influence what they choose to eat. Once again, in this case, maybe these shoppers are interested in healthier eating, but finding it hard to apply to their diets. Eighteen percent say the have little to no interest in the guidelines, and 11% admit that they try to follow them but end up slipping into old habits.

When it comes to their local supermarket, 42% of our consumer panel say their store makes it easy for them to find and buy foods that meet the Dietary Guidelines, and 14% say their store makes them hard to find. However, 46% answered that they are "not sure," suggesting that many shoppers are not making connections with the guidelines when they are buying foods. In a separate question, 49% say they would like it if their supermarket made it easier for them to follow the guidelines, and 65% of our panel believe that the guidelines apply to the whole family regardless of age.

Although some people claim they try to follow the guidelines or don't follow them at all, 36% say they would only have to change their eating slightly in order to follow the guidelines. Twenty-four percent say "moderately", and four percent say "significantly. Another 24% say they would not have to change their eating at all.

Most of our panel feels that the USDA should be issuing these guidelines with 42% believing "we can all use some expert advice" and 27% saying "it's in the nation's best health interest." And in another question, 32% said they want to see the guidelines reinforced in school classrooms, and another 42% say they should also improve cafeteria food and vending machine choices that follow these guidelines.

Retailers can learn from this panel that their shoppers are interested in how the Dietary Guidelines can be applied in their households, but their answers also suggests that there is more opportunity for stores to connect with their shoppers by offering ways to meet these Guidelines. A store dietitian or nutritionist could be an excellent resource for educating shoppers. How about food pairings that help shoppers create meals that cover food groups. Or how about food substitution suggestions for lowering salt or sugar (for example, try frozen yogurt instead of ice cream for dessert), giving shoppers options when trying to meet the guidelines but also satisfying their taste buds. Customers will appreciate the service and the shopping experience when they have added guidance in the store.