According to the data and analytics provider, 70% of European consumers say they are buying “healthy” food with reduced amounts of salt, sugar, fat and calories.
IRI spoke to 2,600 shoppers in Italy, Greece, Spain, Germany, France, the UK and Holland about their attitudes and purchasing behavior of wellness foods.
The survey results also highlighted a significant increase in the number of people who are buying organic grocery items. Fifty-three percent of consumers said they are buying organic food. This is an increase of 35% in just three years, IRI noted. Germany led the way in organic consumption, with 67% of consumers reporting that they purchase organic items.
The number of people buying vegetarian products is also on the up in the region. IRI found that 39% of European consumers buy vegetarian food options, an increase of 26% in the last three years. Spanish consumers were most likely to buy vegetarian foods, with 44% stating that they include meat-free options in their shopping.
Another area that has witnessed demand growth over the last three years is the free-from category, with 33% of shoppers in the region buying lactose free, yeast free or gluten free products. Again, Spanish consumers proved to be ahead of the curve, with almost half – 48% - reporting that they buy food products that target intolerances.
What is driving demand?
Shoppers reported a greater awareness of the role that food plays in “general health and wellness” as a key motivator for buying into the better-for-you food sector. A total of 51% said that “general wellness” was why they purchased wellness food.
One-third of shoppers surveyed also stated that they wanted to buy additive-free food while one in three shoppers claimed they read the ingredient lists and nutritional fact labels on food items before they purchase.
Weight loss, environmental concerns and health problems were also identified as factors motivating purchasing intent by 26%, 22% and 15% of respondents respectively.
“Concern for general wellness is the biggest reason that Europeans are buying healthier food options,” said Livio Martucci, director at IRI and analyst of the shopping survey.
“They are more concerned with the quality, safety and healthiness of the food that they buy, have an intolerance to certain foods or just want to lose weight. With obesity becoming a key challenge for health across Europe, it is encouraging to see that one in four shoppers want to achieve weight loss.
"It is likely that more people are eating ‘free-from’ products than are actively diagnosed as being intolerant. They think they are being more healthy by eating ‘free-from’ food items are prepared to spend more money in doing so,” added Martucci.
As demand for healthy foods – as well as organic, vegetarian and free-from options – moves into the mainstream, Martucci said there is a significant opportunity for food manufacturers to highlight the health benefits of their products or introduce new, healthier, lines.
“Healthy eating alongside organic, free-from and vegetarian food is no longer a niche market to be profiled at the back end of a supermarket aisle. There is a huge opportunity here for manufacturers to innovate and for retailers to give more shelf space to healthier food options, including own label ranges. Ultimately, a focus on health could bring people back into stores and stop shoppers drifting into bio stores and street markets for their healthy food choices.”
For most Europeans, however, eating healthy is also about the basics. IRI found that 60% of survey respondents said that eating fruit and vegetables was "the most important" aspect of a healthy diet.