Fat, calories remain top consumer concerns, reveals survey

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Percent, Nutrition, Us food and drug administration, Euromonitor international

Fat and calorie content remain at the top of the list when it comes
to checking food labels, according to a recent poll, which reveals
that although most consumers check labels they are still likely to
purchase 'unhealthy' products.

The AP-Ipsos survey, conducted between May and June this year, revealed that around 80 percent of American consumers say they check the nutrition labeling on food and beverage packages.

But even though Americans seem to be aware that they should be monitoring their nutrition, this often does not affect their food choices, according to the poll results.

Based on responses from around 1,000 American adults from throughout the US, the recent survey revealed that 44 percent of consumers purchase "foods that are bad for you",​ even after checking the nutrition labels. And although this is lower than the 56 percent who choose to refuse the 'bad' foods, it remains a significant proportion of the population that gives in to temptation or habit.

This also points to one reason for the growing obesity crisis, despite consumers being bombarded with health messages left, right and center.

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), around 64 percent of all American adults are currently overweight, 30 percent of whom are classed obese. And with 16 percent of children in the country suffering from obesity, the crisis is set to continue to grow.

Indeed, based on responses to the recent poll, most people- 80 percent- believe that nutrition labels are easy to understand, which suggests that consumers are well aware of what they are eating.

And around three quarters of respondents also claim to place significant importance on nutrition content when deciding which packaged foods to buy.

Fat and calories remain a top consumer priority, with a quarter of respondents saying these are the first things they check for on packages. Sugars come third in the list, with 10 percent of people checking for these first, followed by 8 percent who check for sodium and 6 percent for carbohydrate.

Vitamin content, dietary fiber and protein come in bottom of the list, with only around 1-2 percent of respondents claiming these as a top concern.

The survey, which has a 3 percent margin of error, also revealed that younger people are more likely to look for calories on labels, with almost 40 percent of people aged between 18 and 29 saying they looked at calories first. However, three out of five people in this age group are more likely to buy foods that are bad for them even after checking the labels.

This age group is also more likely to believe what it says on the front of a package than other age groups, while almost three quarters of total survey respondents said they check 'low fat' or 'reduced fat' product claims against the nutrition label.

Other findings include the fact that women are likely to place more importance on nutrition content than men (82 percent women, 64 percent men), and those with higher levels of education and more disposable income also appear more health-conscious.

Consumers who earn more than $75,000 a year are more likely to check nutrition labels than those who earn $50,000 or less, and people on salaries of $25,000 or less are more likely to purchase foods that are bad for them even after checking nutrition labels.

In general, results from the recent poll confirm what manufacturers have long known about consumer purchasing decisions: health is good, but only if it comes with the right taste and the right price.

And this challenge is being increasingly achieved by food and beverage makers, with a knock-on result in sales.

According to Euromonitor International, global sales of health and wellness products reached almost $129bn in 2004, sparking the rapid growth of the functional, organic and health foods markets.

Between 2002 and 2004 alone international demand for functional foods and beverages increased by 20 per cent to be worth $68 billion, leading Euromonitor to conclude that "the sector would seem a logical choice for manufacturer investment".

Related topics: Food labelling

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