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Why Internet Ranks First for Nutrition Information

Why Internet Ranks First for Nutrition Information

Supermarkets are putting more effort into becoming comprehensive sources of nutrition information, but a new survey finds grocers are coming up short. It turns out supermarkets aren't among the top sources of this information, and they also aren't among the most highly trusted.

Those are findings from the 2009 National Grocers Association Consumer Panel Survey, conducted by via a national consumer panel on its website. These results, part of a larger survey, are both disturbing and instructive for supermarkets as they grow their educational efforts around health and nutrition.

Consumers were asked where they learn about nutrition issues on a regular basis. The top source, named by 70% of respondents, was the Internet. That was followed by magazines, 67%; television, 40%; and newspapers, 38% (totals didn't add to 100% because of multiple responses). Supermarkets were cited by 32%, the same as books. That was ahead of friends and family, 31%, doctors, 24%, and nutritionists/dietitians, 14%.

Consumers were also asked which sources they trusted the most. The Internet again ranked highest, at 26%. That was followed by doctors, 17%; nutritionists/dietitians, 12%; magazines, 12%; friends and family, 8%; books, 6%; and newspapers, 5%.

Where did grocery stores place? At 3%, just behind “other” at 4%, and equal to online communities at 3%.

What explains these consumer choices? First, take a look at the responses regarding medical professionals. Doctors and nutritionists appeared fairly low on the list of sources consumers seek out for information, but relatively high on the roster of trusted sources. That indicates that consumers don't have as much access to these professionals as they might like.

But consumers do have lots of access to the Internet and value its immediacy, said Phil Lempert, the food industry analyst who is editor of Phil said social networking in particular is a heavily used — though not necessarily reliable — online tool for nutrition information.

It's hard to understand why consumers give such relatively high trust ratings to the Internet. My interpretation is that people are willing to do the work of digging through websites, blogs, social networking groups and other online vehicles to uncover information that seems most reliable. In that view, consumers are the jury, making the determination based on the evidence, including up-to-the-minute facts often available only online.

Why don't supermarkets score higher? Phil has an interesting take on this question. He believes supermarket nutritional information — whether in-store, online, in circulars or in nutritional ratings programs — fails to build trust because it doesn't clearly outline its sources of data.

In my opinion, this survey is an eye-opener for supermarkets, many of which fancy themselves to be top nutrition guides for their shoppers. Every retailer needs to ask these same survey questions to its customer base. If the answers are disappointing, it's time to adopt new game plans. Retailers that are considered trusted dispensers of health information will enjoy a huge advantage with consumers in coming years.