STUDY: CONCERNS ABOUT NUTRITION, FOOD HANDLING STAND OUT

MADISON, Wis. -- Consumers shopping the deli are hungry for nutrition information, and consider cleanliness and safe food handling important, according to a new study.Retailers, however, are not always in tune with what customers consider important, the research showed.The findings represent some changes from similar studies done in 1999 and 1994, said Rosita Thomas, president, Thomas Opinion Research,

MADISON, Wis. -- Consumers shopping the deli are hungry for nutrition information, and consider cleanliness and safe food handling important, according to a new study.

Retailers, however, are not always in tune with what customers consider important, the research showed.

The findings represent some changes from similar studies done in 1999 and 1994, said Rosita Thomas, president, Thomas Opinion Research, Manassas, Va., who conducted all three studies for the International Dairy-Deli-Bakery Association. That consumers expressed concerns about the effect of certain foods on their health struck Thomas as interesting.

"They want to feel good about what they're buying," she said. "In fact, I think one of the most important things shown is that consumers are actually starting to hear the [consumer] media about health issues. Obesity, for instance -- there have been cover stories in Newsweek and other magazines on the subject, and they've got people's attention."

Deli and bakery sales could be kicked up simply by giving customers the information they want, she said.

"Consumers want more information so my advice is give it to them," Thomas said. "Three-quarters of respondents in the deli study had nutritional concerns. They wanted to know about fat content and preservatives and trans fats."

Of the 75% of consumers who said they care about the nutritional content of deli foods, 36% indicated they were very concerned. Respondents concerned about nutritional content most frequently mentioned fat content (48%) and salt content (22%) as their top concerns.

Seventeen percent of consumers polled said they're on a high-protein, low-carb diet, and 34% said it makes sense to follow such a diet. Another 84% said they read nutritional labels, up from 72% in 1999. Eating in moderation is becoming more accepted. Indeed, 81% said they believe you can eat anything as long as you do it in moderation, up from 78% in 1999.

Thomas expressed particular surprise that 55% of households had concerns about obesity. High cholesterol was mentioned as a concern of 48% of households; high blood pressure was also cited as a concern by 48%. Nearly a third (30%) of households had concerns about diabetes.

All three studies showed consumers are less likely to cut fat and more likely to decrease carbs in their everyday eating.

In 1994, 85% of respondents said they're cutting fat, compared to 81% in 1999, and 72% in the latest study. Forty-nine percent said they're decreasing carbs, compared to 42% in 1999.

Consumers seem satisfied with their delis. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they shop the supermarket deli, up from 21% in 1999 and 18% in 1994.

Convenience was identified by 25% of respondents as the reason for shopping the delis, and only 6% said product quality.

Retailers, on the other hand, felt quality was the reason consumers shopped at delis. About 37% of retailers cited quality, and only 18% mentioned convenience.

"There's a big disconnect there between the real reason and what the retailer thinks is the reason," Thomas said.