‘Sound bites’ drive food choices: FMI/Prevention study

July 18, 2012

Shoppers are raising the nutritional bar on their food and beverage purchases, shows the 2012 Shopping for Health study.

Lately, American shoppers have served two masters when buying food and beverage—the health of their bodies and the health of their household budgets.

They’re making more nutritional choices today, just as they’ve made economic choices in the years since the recession hit. Fortunately, the two aren’t mutually exclusive—and says The Lempert Report, retailers that dovetail the two most expediently for shoppers will earn the strongest reputations for caring about them in tough times.

The 20th annual version of the Prevention Magazine/Food Marketing Institute Shopping for Health survey, released yesterday, shows many examples of U.S. adult chief household grocery shoppers seeking nutritionally sounder food and beverage selections:

•    32% say they are buying more foods based on nutritional components versus a year ago.
•    Many aim to consume calories in smarter ways—55% switched to whole grain bread, 33% look for protein content on the label (up from 23% in 2009), and 30% switched to Greek yogurt (up from 21% in 2011).
•    By cooking more at home, people can know what’s in their meals—and 57% of those surveyed say they’ve tried a new healthy recipe within the past year (up from 52% in 2009).
•    They get their healthy meal ideas online (39%), or from cooking shows (37%), magazines (34%), cookbooks (33%), word of mouth (31%), recipes on labels (26%), culinary magazines (12%), and supermarkets (11%).
•    32% say they are buying more low-sodium products than in 2011.

But it can’t be easy to shop for health when findings suggest a lack of understanding of how people can buy foods smartly.  The study points out, for instance, that three-quarters of shoppers assign healthy attributes to the terms organic, natural and local on package labels—when only organic has a federal designation.  Moreover, 63% would prefer one single national nutritional rating system that ranks products against each other, presumably to simplify their shop-for-health task. If such a system came to be, 45% would want it to be a collaborative effort between the government, different sectors of the food industry, and nonprofit groups.

Their top five health motivators affecting the foods and beverages they typically buy are:  heart health, providing more energy, avoiding empty calories, digestive health and improving immunity, the report said.