Trends from New Consumer Research

Survey reveals that Americans’ familiarity with foods that can provide benefits beyond basic nutrition is at an all-time high.

By David Schmidt, president and CEO of the International Food Information Council (IFIC)

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The year 2007 marks a midpoint between the release of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the next wave of recommendations to be made in 2010. According to the 2007 IFIC Consumer Attitudes toward Functional Foods/Foods for Health Survey — the fifth edition of a biennial survey begun in 1998 — Americans’ familiarity with foods that can provide benefits beyond basic nutrition (“functional foods”) is at an all-time high.

On an unaided basis, 92 percent of consumers are able to name a food and its associated health benefit, such as calcium for bone health. This represents a significant and steady increase compared to 84 percent in 2002, 82 percent in 2000, and 77 percent in 1998.

The top 10 functional foods named top-of-mind by consumers were 1) fruits and vegetables; 2) fish, fish oil, seafood; 3) milk and other dairy products; 4) whole grains, including oats, oat bran, and oatmeal; 5) fiber; 6) green tea; 7) meat; 8) water; 9) certain herbs and spices; and 10) nuts.

Where the nutrition needle stalls — the “diet disconnects” — are the knowledge-behavior gaps with respect to some basic nutrition concepts, such as calories and dietary fats. While 56 percent of consumers say they are currently trying to lose weight, only 11 percent of consumers correctly estimate the recommended number of calories per day for a person of their age and height. Less than one third of respondents correctly stated that “calories in general” caused weight gain.

Consumer concern about types and amounts of dietary fats is up from a year ago, 72 percent vs. 66 percent, and people are trying specifically to consume less trans fat. But, they are also trying to consume less polyunsaturated fats, suggesting they are unclear about which fats are healthful.

View the complete survey at http://www.ific.org/research/index.cfm.

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