Healthy Eating a Struggle

Helping consumers find enjoyment in fruits, vegetables and grains is a huge opportunity for processors and retailers.

By Diane Toops, News & Trends Editor

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Healthy living is a growing trend, but for many Americans it is a slow and gradual process. In fact, nearly two-thirds of U.S. consumers are still overweight or obese, and most are not eating the daily recommended servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

That’s according to “The Healthy Eating Evolution,” an IRI Times and Trends Report from Chicago-based Information Resources Inc.

Change is hard. Consumers’ slow progress in shifting to healthier lifestyles is a testament to that fact. Relative to dietary guidelines, consumers are woefully behind in whole grain, fruit and vegetable consumption — despite some increased spending on those products.

This is an enormous growth opportunity but it will require more great-tasting fruit, vegetable and whole-grain products throughout the store, education regarding specific health benefits and clear identification of these products in the store. For Maine grocer Hannaford Brothers, a bold experiment in providing shelf tags with nutritional ratings for products paid off with significantly higher sales among select healthier items.

The good news is 75 percent of U.S. consumers report they are making changes in their diets in an effort to eat healthier. They increasingly recognize wellness benefits beyond basic nutrition, including heart health, digestive health and cancer protection, and are spending more on fresh fruits and vegetables and frozen vegetables, such as one of the Top 10 new products last year: Birds Eye Steamfresh, which enable consumers to steam-cook veggies right in the package.

In the frozen entrees category, several Lean Cuisine Spa Classics varieties offer twice the vegetables of an average frozen meal. Some 10,000 food and beverage products containing superfruits were introduced worldwide last year.

Even within snacks, healthier was the mantra last year. Frito-Lay’s new Flat Earth baked fruit and veggie crisps were a major driver of category growth. In fact, sales of fruit chips soared 98 percent in 2007, and vegetable chips grew 32 percent. But let’s not forget, even the heaviest “healthy” snackers allocate more than half of their spending to indulgent products.

Manufacturers and retailers have addressed growing consumer demand for healthier products through heavy investment in new product development, health and wellness marketing and consumer education on websites and in-store. Many of those “ahead of their time” companies are reaping big rewards.

Opening the doors for other functional products, Dannon Activia yogurt, which aids digestion, was one of the most successful new products in recent history, earning $128 million in year-one sales, despite the fact it was introduced before most consumers were on board with “functional” foods.

While the market for healthier products is broad, there are several segments with unique needs that warrant targeted product development and marketing, such as baby boomers, chronic disease sufferers, lower-income consumers and kids. Both boomers and lower-income families have a higher tendency to face obesity than the general population. Boomers are also more likely to face chronic diseases requiring special diets, fighting such things as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Meanwhile, parents are trying to instill healthy eating habits among children, including increased consumption of nutritious products and portion control.

“If manufacturers and retailers can address consumer hurdles to healthier eating, such as price, time constraints, taste, availability and information, they can help consumers get a jump start on healthy living, while growing brand, category and store sales,” says Andrew Salzman, IRI’s global chief marketing officer.

 

Opportunities for manufacturers and retailers

  • Offer a wide variety of nutritious products containing servings of fruit, vegetables and whole grains, including fresh, frozen and shelf-stable that can be consumed both at home and on the go.
  • Deliver multiple benefits in products aiding in weight management to meet a broader range of consumer needs -- reduced sodium and whole grain in addition to low-fat or low-calorie. Products with weight management benefits, including portion control, low-fat and reduced calories, are outpacing total CPG sales by a significant margin.
  • Provide an attractive assortment of products with disease management benefits for high-incidence conditions, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes in markets with a significant portion of consumers aged 55 and over.
  • Offer nutritious products and convenient portion control products that appeal to kids.
  • Natural/organic products are getting a boost from a growing environmental consciousness, and a Harris poll found 75 percent of respondents believe organic foods are healthier than non-organic ones.

 

 

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