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Insights Reveal Health Goals

The annual convention of the nation’s independent supermarket operators is being held this week in Las Vegas, and the consumer survey released every year to mark the occasion has some interesting insights into the mind of the whole health shopper.

The poll, conducted by the National Grocers Association and, devotes an entire section to “Nutritional Concerns,” and that’s where you see just how many of the nearly 2,500 chief household, mostly female shoppers remain committed to eating healthy despite the tough times.

When asked what concerns them most about the foods they eat, the simple “Desire to be healthy/eat what’s good for us” came in first, at 22%, far outpacing the other choices (fat content received 13%).

That desire is apparently translating into action. A full 27% stated their diets are healthy enough. More important, the number of those who admit shortcomings is falling: “Compared with a year ago, when 68% were critical of the foods they eat at home and away from home, this figure improves markedly to 62%,” the report said.

Fruits and vegetables are the most popular ways of improving diet, according to the survey, with 84% of respondents saying so. Less junk food was second (64%) and fewer fried foods was third (63%).

To help them make their decisions, shoppers are turning to health claims. The number of people who “almost always” look at on-pack helath claims shot up seven points from the year before, to 43%. The pollsters point out the gain came at the expense of the “Sometimes” crowd, which fell by the same number of points, to 41%.

The survey also asked the panel to rate their primary store’s performance when it came to making nutrition and health information available. Here, supermarkets got high marks, with 7 in 10 shoppers (20% “Excellent” and 49% “Good”) stating they are pleased by the resources they’re finding in-store to help them buy the most healthful products. The total is 3% higher than last year, led by a two-point rise in the “Excellent” rating.

Categories that are closely associated with health have also been getting boosts. For example, organic — believed by many to use safer farming practices than conventional methods — reached new heights in the 2010 survey, despite the economy. More than 6 in 10 shoppers (25% “Very Important” and 36% “Somewhat Important”) say that organic products matter in the store where they shop.

Another was local foods, which got even more votes than organic. Here, the affirmative opinions grew 5% from last year, with 41% calling local items “Very important’” and 42% calling them “Somewhat Important.”

These numbers all bear out what the industry continues to hear as we bump along in uncertain times: Consumer desire is there. Smart pricing and merchandising can turn that into demand.