How much do wellness foods generate in sales?

We all know that Americans are increasingly turning to foods and beverages that promote healthy living.  But just how much do these foods generate in sales, and which categories have shown the most growth?  Nielsen’s Healthy Eating Report for 2008 (based on Nielsen’s LabelTrends, which tracks health and wellness claims for nearly every food product that passes through U.S. cash registers) found some answers.

Food labeled as “natural” generated $22.3 billion in sales in 2008, up 10 percent from 2007, and up 37 percent from 2004; Organic foods (UPC-coded) accounted for $4.9 billion in sales, up 16% from the year before, and up 132 percent since 2004; Foods that tout antioxidants produced $1.9 billion in sales, up 11 percent in 2008 and up 147 percent since 2004; Foods targeted to those who are “carb conscious” saw sales decline 3 percent in 2008 to $2 billion, and declined 31 percent since 2004; Hormone/Antibiotic-free foods saw sales grow 11 percent in 2008 to $2.4 billion, an increase of 66 percent since 2004; and Caffeine content seems to be less of a concern: sales of beverages labeled “caffeine free” declined 3 percent in 2008, and 5 percent since 2004.

Looking at specific types of food, Nielsen found that Milk represents 25 percent of all “fat free” sales, although fat-free milk only makes up 18 percent of milk sales. Cheese labeled “natural” represents 69 percent of all cheese sales and 32 percent of all “natural” food and beverage sales. Snack foods described as saturated or trans fat-free make up 38 percent of the category. Beer labeled as “reduced calorie” accounts for half of all beer sales and 41 percent of sales of food and beverages labeled as such. Fifty-four percent of all cereals are labeled as “whole grain,” and cereals make up 40 percent of all foods described as such.
“Although much is written about organics, products labeled “natural” generate much higher sales,” says Tom Pirovano, Director of Industry Insight at Nielsen.  In fact, sales of products labeled “organic” leveled off significantly in 2008 after four years of solid growth. Looking at the year ahead, it will be interesting to see how the economic downturn affects sales of foods and beverages that are primarily described as organic, which, for many consumers, have a reputation for being more expensive than other foods.”