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WASHINGTON, DC -- American shoppers are increasingly aware of the role food and nutrition play in managing health, but shopping habits are largely driven by convenience, cost, nutritional information and the influence of children, according to a new study by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Prevention magazine, "Shopping for Health 2003: Whole Health for the Whole Family."
Nearly 90 percent of consumers believe healthy eating is a better way to manage illness than medication, the 12th annual report found.
"As shoppers consider herbal remedies, organic foods, make choices for their children's lunches and decide where to learn about weight loss and healthy eating, food retailers and wholesalers are positioned to play a vital role in improving nutritional lifestyles of consumers," said Janice Jones, Food Marketing Institute director of research.
Many consumers believe healthy meals must be fixed at home, but that they do not have the time to prepare them, so they turn to prepackaged, takeout and fast-food meals. While 50 percent of consumers complain fast food is "not at all" healthful, 70 percent still buy prepared foods. Working women (33 percent) and younger shoppers more frequently cited time constraints as a reason for not eating more nutritious meals.
Healthful prepared foods are especially important to working women, younger shoppers, minorities and those with poor diets, according to the report. Working women struggle to find time to cook and value healthy, ready-to-eat options. Gen X/Y shoppers place more importance on healthy prepared food options, possibly because they are less experienced with food preparation.
In general, shoppers say healthy foods are not only time-consuming to prepare, but more costly than less healthy foods. Thirty percent of nutritionally struggling consumers cite the cost of healthy foods as a major reason they do not eat better. Shoppers with children, particularly single parents (41 percent), are more likely to say the expense of healthy foods is a major barrier to a more nutritious family diet.
The recent flurry of news coverage on obesity is not being ignored by today's shoppers. However, while more than 80 percent of shoppers are already making "a lot" or "some" effort to eat healthfully, they remain confused about what is healthy. According to the survey, 45 percent of shoppers strongly agree "in the next five years, it's very likely that the experts will have a completely different idea about which foods are healthy and which are not."
Consumers Seek Whole Health Solutions
Nearly 85 percent of shoppers say one-stop shopping is "very" or "somewhat" important to them, particularly to working women, parents (especially single parents), minorities and younger shoppers. Six out of 10 shoppers (62 percent) rate their current grocery store as "excellent" or "good" in providing all food and health needs in one place. When asked which type of store does the best job in providing all the products needed to maintain health, shoppers named a typical supermarket (35 percent) first, followed by discount stores (22 percent), drugstores (15 percent), health and natural food stores (13 percent) and health and nutrition stores like GNC (8 percent).
In-store pharmacies are another factor in the whole-health solution and 70 percent of shoppers feel it is a "very" or "somewhat" important feature in an ideal grocery store.
Parents strive to balance the menu preferences and the nutritional needs of their families as they make choices. One-third of shoppers have children who accompany them to the store or influence the food purchases for the household. Most parents are concerned about buying foods that are healthy and 54 percent strongly disagree that "the nutritional quality of our family meals is less important to me than just getting my kids to eat without complaining."
Parents who are managing their own diets and those with healthy weights are more likely than other shoppers to make the effort to keep their children's diets nutritious. Overweight parents are more likely to compromise the nutritional quality of a meal in order to have a complaint-free dinner.