Even 'Better-for-You' Foods Appear Suspect

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Jan 30, 2015

Americans want their food to be natural and certainly not genetically improved … but they're not much interested in 12 other better-for-you label claims, including reduced sodium, whole grain and organic, according to a new study by The NPD Group.

The 29th annual Eating Patterns in America Report from the market research firm found Americans cutting back on products with these claims for the sixth straight year to the lowest level in a decade. Meanwhile, concerns over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food hit a new high, with 57 percent of adults linking GMOs with "a health hazard."

“In this latest evolution, consumers appear to be avoiding foods and beverages that were made to be better for them and instead consumers are going for products that are real and not altered," says Harry Balzer, senior vice president of NPD Group, its chief food industry analyst and author of the report for all 29 of its years.

The better-for-you attributes that are in decline:

  • Reduced fat
  • Low calorie
  • Diet
  • Light 
  • Reduced cholesterol
  • Reduced sodium
  • Caffeine-free
  • Sugar-free
  • Fortified
  • Organic
  • Low-carb
  • Whole-grain

Through the year ended February 2014, Americans consumed 1.9 products per person per day with a label that indicated one of the 12 attributes. That's down 27 percent from 2008, when Americans consumed 2.6 of these products per person per day.

Even though these products are meant to demonstrate they are “better for you,” consumers appear to be drawing a different conclusion. “It seems we have entered a new phase of marketing health to the American consumer," says Balzer. "The first phase, back in the '80s and '90s, focused on avoiding harmful substances in our food, such as fat, cholesterol and sodium. The second phase, from the mid-'90s to just a few years ago, was a move to add more beneficial substances in our diet, such as whole grains, dietary fiber and probiotics. It appears we are in the third phase of the ‘healthy food revolution,’" Balzer says.

Coinciding with the movement away from foods and beverages that have been made “better for you” is the increasing concern about genetically altered foods, says Balzer. NPD’s latest research finds 57 percent of Americans are concerned that modified foods pose a health hazard, up from 46 percent a decade ago.

“Have we altered the food supply so much to make it better for us, that there is now a backlash against those products?" asks Balzer. "It is looking like we want more of our foods and beverages to be natural. I think we’re looking for foods and beverages to be as they were meant to be. It is part of the new ‘healthy food revolution’ happening in this country.”

Making Sense of This

Demonizing high-fructose corn syrup. Gluten-free dieting when you have no gluten sensitivity. And now this NPD report. Consumer sentiments are hard to explain sometimes, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to understand them or follow them.

These are the kinds of conundrums we'll discuss collectively and try to make sense of at Food Processing's Food Leaders Summit, April 27-29 in Chicago. The event tagline, "Growth through transformative change," says a lot. The changing consumer tide is becoming a tsunami, and it will require a transformation for most companies to stay afloat in this new reality of discerning consumers and fast-reacting retailers.

Topics at our conference will include how to rebuild consumer trust, achieving sustainability in your supply chain, what makes a clean label and what consumers will be thinking in the year 2020 and beyond.

The Food Leaders Summit is designed for executives and managers, product developers and marketers at all food & beverage companies that want to grow in the years ahead. Limited to 250 attendees, it will be big enough for some critical mass on important issues, but small enough to allow for networking and interaction with speakers.

Are you trying to lead your company through this transformation? Do you want to make sense of consumers' sometimes conflicting messages? Attend the Food Leaders Summit. See more information and register at www.TheFoodLeadersSummit.com.

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