More shoppers counting calories: survey

by Bryan Salvage
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NEW YORK – Conversations about health and weight maintenance are spreading to the supermarket aisles, according to Shopping for Health 2010, the 18th in a yearly study released by the Food Marketing Institute (F.M.I). and Prevention magazine, and published by Rodale Inc. The Shopping for Health survey examines shoppers’ interests and attitudes regarding health and nutrition, their efforts to manage diets and the ways in which health and nutritional concerns play out in buying decisions at the supermarket.

Almost half (43 percent) of consumers polled said they’re paying more attention to calorie counts than they were two years ago. One-third of shoppers find it appealing to use smartphone "Apps" to create grocery lists. More than 25 percent of shoppers also opt to get updates from retailers on sales and specials via an "App," and one-quarter of shoppers like the idea of using "Apps" to choose healthy items.

Here are some facts uncovered about calories:

  • Although calorie counts are not new, the increased level of concern is evident in findings such as more shoppers are paying attention to the counts, and one-quarter of shoppers are buying more low- or zero-calorie products than last year.
  • Most shoppers just loosely try to watch how many calories they consume.
  • 9 percent actively count how many calories they consume.
  • 50 percent say they just watch their calories.
  • 41 percent don’t watch at all

Many shoppers greatly underestimate what they consume by meal type. In total, most of them believe they consume the daily-recommended amount of calories.

  • Breakfast – 60 percent say they consume 300 or fewer calories (bagel with low fat cream cheese = 460 calories).
  • Lunch – 61 percent say they consume 300-500 calories (turkey sandwich on whole wheat = 480 calories).
  • Snack – 74 percent say they consume 300 or fewer calories (4 chocolate chip cookies = 640 calories).
  • Dinner – 65 percent say they consume 500 or more calories (¼ chicken and sides = 640 calories).

In the discussion to tax unhealthy foods to lower consumption and help obesity rates, shoppers are not in agreement yet.

  • 25 percent of shoppers say it is "OK" to tax unhealthy foods.
  • Of those who said yes, fast-food received the most votes to be taxed (70 percent) with soda (67 percent) and items with trans fats (64 percent) not far behind.
  • Bacon (19 percent) and butter (10 percent) are safer in the eyes of consumers.

Shoppers continue to eat at home vs. dining out and spend at the supermarket or local food retailer. Twenty-four percent of shoppers are spending more at the grocery store than before the economic crash.

In the store, many shoppers continue to favor necessities over impulse purchases. Seventy- seven percent buy only what they need, while 53 percent cut out buying premium versions.

Impulse buying is dominated by two words –"on sale"; 45 percent buy on-sale items, even if not on their list. And private-label buying is considerable: 48 percent switched to a store brand in 2009.

Fifty-two percent of shoppers tried a new healthy recipe in the past year. Type of healthy recipe they tried:

  • 69 percent chicken
  • 59 percent salad
  • 52 percent soup
  • 46 percent pasta/rice dish
  • 41 percent fish
  • 32 percent sandwich
  • 30percent vegetarian dish
  • 30 percent dessert
  • 17 percent steak

When trying to eat healthier, shoppers do this half or more of the time:

  • 58 percent – Swapping: opt for the healthier version of a product.
  • 52 percent – Switching: switch one product for a healthier alternative.
  • 47 percent – Stopping: stop buying less-healthy products.
  • 47 percent – Cutting: continue to buy less-healthy products, just eat less or smaller portions.
  • 46 percent – Adding: buy healthy products not purchased before

Sodium levels are the new top label concern (66 percent), tied with fat (66 percent) and followed closely by sugar/artificial sweeteners (65 percent) and calories (60 percent).

Compared to last year, more than one-third of shoppers say they’re buying products with more grains (whole grain, 49 percent; multigrain, 40 percent), fiber (39 percent), low-fat (37 percent) and low-sodium (34 percent). 

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