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Specific Health Claims Influence Shopping Behavior

NEW YORK — Health-conscious shoppers once tended to focus on the undesirable components of food, avoiding foods with fat, sugar, salt or lots of calories. But, according to the 19th annual “Shopping for Health” survey, released last week by the Food Marketing Institute and Prevention magazine, a growing number of shoppers are looking for fortifications or the inclusion of key ingredients.

According to the online survey, conducted by Harris Interactive, 44% percent of respondents look for fiber content, 36% said they seek out whole grains, 27% examine protein content, 23% look for omega-3s, and 16% examine antioxidant claims.

“While the main criteria for healthy foods was previously determined by ingredients it did not contain, today's shoppers are now instead wondering what's in their food, seeking to better understand the nutritional components of what they eat,” Cary Silvers, Prevention's director of consumer insights, said in a release. Specific health claims have also proven to be a draw. Heart health claims get the most attention, influencing 73% of respondents. Digestive health claims were important to 66% of respondents, while 65% sought out claims regarding improved mind health.

Meanwhile, fewer shoppers are reading nutritional facts panels. The survey revealed that while most shoppers read food labels, the share has been on decline for the past four years, from 71% of respondents in 2007 and 2008, to 67% in 2009, to 64% in 2010.

“Helping food retailers provide their customers with the information they need to make nutritious choices and develop healthy eating habits remains a clarion call for FMI,” Leslie Sarasin, president and chief executive officer for FMI, said in the release. “As schedules become busier and awareness of health issues increase, the consumer demand for healthful options that are quick and easy for families will grow.”

The Nutrition Keys front-of-pack labeling program from FMI and the Grocery Manufacturers Association may help. About 20% of shoppers said that they had seen front-of-pack labeling recently. Regardless of whether they had seen front-of-pack labeling, 61% of respondents said that it would be an improvement over traditional labels on the backs or sides of packages.

Unfortunately, while many consumers sincerely want to eat healthier, a lack of planning can undermine the best of intentions. Almost three-quarters (72%) of shoppers decide what they will have for dinner earlier that day, the survey revealed. In fact, about one-in-four shoppers (24%) decide what to have an hour before eating. Younger adults are the most spontaneous, with one-third of Gen X and Gen Y respondents saying that they tend to make dinner decisions within an hour before eating.

When same-day decisions for dinner are made, health remains a primary concern for only 52% of shoppers. Instead, health is trumped by qualities such as taste, for 73% of shoppers, quickness of preparation for 60%, and cravings for another 52%.