Online Exclusives

Hungry for Healthy Food

By Joanna Cosgrove, Online Editor | August 2, 2012

Mintel consumer study reveals more American consumers are tuned-in to their nutritional needs and are shopping more shrewdly for healthy foods.

The ongoing emphasis on America’s obesity problem is effectively resonating with increasingly health-conscious consumers. The popularity of TV shows like The Biggest Loser and interest in First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign have boosted America’s collective interest in shaping up and eating healthy, reported Mintel in new research that confirmed just over two-thirds (67%) of Americans choose healthier foods to stay well. 
“Consumers are more aware than ever of their own nutritional deficits, and what poor eating habits can do in terms of their long-term health,” commented John Frank, category manager, CPG food and drink reports at Mintel. “As a result, today’s consumers are seeking out healthy food with greater urgency. However, skeptical or confused consumers aren’t likely to pay a premium for healthier food, making it hard for manufacturers to justify investment in nutritional/ingredient upgrades.”
In its Attitudes Toward Healthy Food - US - June 2012study Mintel said healthier products typically bear a higher price point, meaning that catering to shoppers who are eating better may represent a growth opportunity for both retailers and manufacturers. “Retailers should develop and market their own private label versions of healthier products that not only generate higher profit margins, but also reinforce a retailer’s identity in the marketplace,” Mintel pointed out. “For manufacturers, Americans’ interest in eating better means that they may want to consider focusing on developing products that are likely to be relevant to health-conscious consumers.”
According to Mintel’s GNPD, the majority of the top 12 fastest-growing new product claims between 2002 and 2011 have some kind of health-related component.
“Mainstream manufacturers have been quick to offer healthier line extensions of established brands (eg, Natural Doritos),” the company stated. “However, it is possible natural and organic companies (eg, Amy’s Kitchen, Annie’s Homegrown) have more credibility in this space, since they do not have the carry the same potential baggage associated with offering what are generally considered to be unhealthy salty snacks.”
The firm also expected the organic segment to perform well. Mintel’s Natural and Organic Food and Beverage: the Market—U.S. November 2011 forecasted organic to achieve nearly 12% growth in 2012 and 2013, with annual sales of $23.5 billion in FDMx, natural, and specialty markets. The report also highlighted the fact that natural sales growth from 2009-11 (23%) was somewhat higher than organic sales during this period. Part of the reason, Mintel explained, is that “natural foods are not as expensive as organics, so they are more appealing from a cost perspective, especially in light of the troubles the economy has experienced in recent years.”
Purchasing Motivators
In the Attitudes report, thirty-one percent of consumers acknowledged choosing healthy foods to lose weight, while 30% do so to maintain weight. “As age increases so does the likelihood that adults are maintaining a mostly healthy diet,” Mintel reported. “Nearly half (48%) of Americans age 65+ say they pay close attention to how they eat, compared to only 32% of 18-24s. Nearly one fourth (24%) of the 65+ age group (the highest percentage of any demographic) say they do not exercise at all. This could be a principal reason for their healthier eating habits, as that is their main way of controlling their weight and health.” 
“Younger adults generally still feel invincible and have a more naturally active metabolism, making it easier to maintain their weight,” added Mr. Frank. 
Younger consumers (18-34) also seem to be more in tune with dietary issues such as food allergens and gluten intolerance. “The youngest adults (18-24s) are a somewhat complex group,” Mintel wrote in its report. “While they are the most likely to eat whatever they want, there is also a notable percentage who closely monitor what they eat. In fact, this group is two to three times more likely than adults 65+ to say they follow a rather strict diet. In some cases, such as with vegetarians, the motivation may be both health and lifestyle/environment-related. Youngest respondents are the most likely to be interested in gluten-free diets.”
While many factors play into how and why consumers purchase certain foods for their households, Mintel concluded by and large there is a desire to eat healthier. But there is still a great deal of consumer skepticism surrounding products that are merely positioned as healthy. Therein lies the challenge moving forward.  “Manufacturers…have effectively marketed products, even indulgent ones, with their best foot forward,” Mintel researchers wrote. “Today, even cookies and salty snacks are positioned as whole grain or reduced sugar/sodium, and rightly so, since consumers clearly ‘want it all,’ [however they] are increasingly skeptical and view many packaged foods as too processed. It’s up to manufacturers and retailers alike to continue to offer consumers a range of food products that include truly healthier innovations alongside openly indulgent ones. With greater transparency in this regard, consumers may become more loyal to a brand.”

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