Washington — Americans remain highly interested in learning more about functional foods.
More than 80% of consumers polled as part of the 2007 International Food Information Council's Consumer Attitudes Toward Functional Foods/Foods for Health Survey report being either “very interested” (41%) or “somewhat interested” (42%) in learning more about foods that provide benefits beyond basic nutrition.
Retailers such as Penn Traffic, Ingles Markets and Wegmans, which leverage the knowledge of registered dietitians, are on the right track when it comes to satiating the public's hunger. Seventy-four percent of respondents said that dietitians impact their decision to try a food or food component to either a “moderate” or a “great” extent.
“Employing registered dietitians is an excellent idea,” said Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, director of health and nutrition for the nonprofit IFIC Foundation. “Supermarkets can maximize their services by making them present in the store, and also by making them available to respond to consumer questions online, because shoppers don't always have a lot of time to spend in the supermarket.”
This is the fifth edition of the IFIC-commissioned Web-based study performed by Cogent Research, Cambridge, Mass. It was last fielded in 2005.
When prompted with a list, the top three types of foods respondents reported being interested in consuming for desired health benefits were cereals/breads (94%), meat/poultry/fish (94%) and dairy products (91%). Over half of respondents expressed interest in consuming: salad dressings or condiments; beverages or beverage mixes; sweet snacks or desserts; dietary supplements; salty or savory snacks; confectionery or candies; sports or energy bars; and meat alternatives.
Reinhardt Kapsak advises supermarkets to highlight these items and their health benefits during sampling events to help drive sales.
“More than anything else, consumers are interested in taste,” she said. “Providing them with experiences that illustrate great taste and healthfulness in a convenient way is sure to be a winner.” Taste (88%) and price (72%) are the most important purchase decision influencers, followed by a product's healthfulness (65%) and convenience (55%), according to IFIC's 2007 Food & Health Survey, released earlier this year.
Reinhardt Kapsak also noted the efficacy of highlighting the health benefits of individual items at the shelf level.
Kroger is imparting the message “Bread. It's essential for your memory” as part of the Grain Foods Foundation's campaign to promote consumption of white bread as a source of folic acid. Stanchion signs will appear in the bread aisles of 2,500 Kroger locations through December, while floor decals bearing the same message will be featured through the end of October.
“Last year during this time frame, the Grain Foods Foundation launched its America's Healthy Sandwich Showdown campaign, which was promoted through stanchion signs and floor decals at Kroger,” GFF spokeswoman Kristen Patterson told SN earlier this year. “As a result, commercial bread sales increased by 6.2% and unit sales increased by 1.7% over the previous year.”
Consumer curiosity stems from a more educated nutritional mind-set, as awareness of the associations between specific foods and reduced risk of health concerns has grown.
Compared to previous years, more Americans are able to name a specific food or food component associated with menopause, aging, breast cancer, high blood pressure, colon cancer, eye disease, mental performance, diabetes and weight management. Awareness also centers on foods whose benefits are related to Americans' greatest health concerns, which include heart disease (53%), weight (33%), cancer (24%), diabetes (17%), nutrition/diet (16%) and cholesterol (5%).
On an unaided basis, respondents associated fish/fish oil/seafood, oats/oat bran, garlic, cereal and whole grains with benefits related to cardiovascular disease. The top foods/food components associated with weight maintenance include green tea and vegetables. And for cancer, Americans associated broccoli, tomatoes and green leafy vegetables, according to the survey's results.
Other popular associations included dairy for bones and osteoporosis, carrots for eye health and fiber and whole grains for intestinal health.
Awareness of associations that have increased since 2005 include probiotics for maintaining a healthy digestive system (58%, vs. 49% in 2005) and soy for reduced risk of heart disease (55%, vs. 41%).
“It's related to there being new science available and associated media reports,” said Reinhardt Kapsak. “Also, new products are being introduced and messages about them communicated.”