SHOPPERS ARE LEANING TO LOW-FAT: FMI REPORT

WASHINGTON -- Most shoppers think their diets should be healthier and are making supermarket purchases accordingly, a new survey by the Food Marketing Institute here and Prevention Magazine reports. As a result, consumers are increasingly turning to reduced-fat products. Of 1,000 shoppers polled, 74% said they eat low-fat versions of salad dressing, up from 66% last year. A larger amount of consumers

WASHINGTON -- Most shoppers think their diets should be healthier and are making supermarket purchases accordingly, a new survey by the Food Marketing Institute here and Prevention Magazine reports. As a result, consumers are increasingly turning to reduced-fat products. Of 1,000 shoppers polled, 74% said they eat low-fat versions of salad dressing, up from 66% last year. A larger amount of consumers are also turning to low-fat varieties of other categories, including ice cream, 57%, up from 46%; crackers, 55%, up from 45%; cookies, 51%, up from 39%, and cake, 31%, up from 25%. Most consumers said fat, sodium and caloric content are causing them to make changes.

The survey, "Shopping for Health 1996," was conducted between Jan. 15 and Jan. 28. Females accounted for 76% of the sample.

Released at a press conference in New York late last month, the report also states that consumers are confused about expert advice, are using nutrition labels to change eating habits and are willing to pay more for nutrition and convenience.

Healthier eating is a concern of most respondents, with 21% reporting that their diet could be a lot healthier and 50% saying it could be somewhat healthier. To accomplish this, many are using nutrition labels. "Shopping for Health" reports that 72% of shoppers who started buying new foods after reading the nutrition label say information about the amount of fat prompted them to buy it. At the same time, 58% say they almost always read the nutrition label before buying a food product for the first time, a 6% increase from 1992.

Consumers buy products mostly because of taste, but nutrition is more important to them. Though 69% of shoppers don't like fat-free foods as much as the regular versions, they're buying them anyway. In salad dressing, 72% of shoppers fell into this category; in ice cream, 62%; crackers, 56%; mayonnaise, 51%; cookies, 51%; sour cream, 56%; cheeses, 53%; chips, 57%, and cake, 40%.

" 'Shopping for Health' clearly indicates that nutrition is as important as taste for many shoppers," said Michele Tuttle, director of consumer affairs at FMI.

Further, shoppers see value in healthy eating, with 83% saying nutrition is more important than cost. The report also revealed that 55% of shoppers are tired of experts telling them what to eat, an 8% increase from 1994. As a result, shoppers are starting to educate themselves.

"Shoppers are becoming more self-reliant," said Ken Wallace, publisher of Prevention, Emmaus, Pa.

The report recommends several ways that retailers can publicize the nutritional aspects of the foods they sell:

Set up a toll-free nutrition and food safety hotline.

Create in-store displays.

Conduct community seminars with health professionals.

Provide tips on how to incorporate healthy items into children's lunches.

Point out that frozen produce is generally as nutritious as fresh items.

Merchandise low-fat and fat-free foods with regular sections.

Make use of in-store sampling.