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    Ambition vs. Appetite

    Health & wellness cause a conundrum in convenience store aisles.

    By Sherry Frey, Nielsen Perishables Group

    Americans have been trending toward more health-related food purchases for years now. But Nielsen recently completed a survey on the $374-billion snack industry indicating that we are noshing like there’s no tomorrow. So, what gives? Are we eating healthy and unhealthy foods in equal measure?

    According to the findings in an August Nielsen/NMI Health & Wellness in America report, we literally want to have our cake — and carrot juice — and eat them, too. Consider the following seemingly contradictory facts:

    • While 75 percent of us say we feel we can manage health issues through proper nutrition, 91 percent of us admit to snacking at least once per day on candy, ice cream and chips.
    • Less than half of Americans who rate low salt and sugar intake as important to diet and weight management actually restrict their use of either one.
    • Seventy-five percent of Americans say they feel they can manage many health issues through proper nutrition, whereas 50 percent say it can be a challenge to eat healthy.
    • Sixty-four percent of Americans say they will take whatever means necessary to control their own health, whereas according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of American adults are obese.

    So, why is there a disconnect between what we know is healthy and what we actually do? What are the perceptions around “health foods” that prevent us from making better choices? And how can industry insiders help bridge the gap?

    American consumers overwhelmingly aspire to lead healthy lives. The popularity of fitness bands, smartphone apps that track health, and fresh food sales have all risen dramatically. At the start of this year, U.S. consumers listed health among their top five concerns for 2014.

    However, when it comes to healthy habits, life appears to get in consumers' way. In the recent Nielsen Global Snacking Study, chocolate and fresh fruit were tied as favorite American snack choices.

    Taste perceptions influence consumers' food shopping decisions. Half of consumers agree that “healthy food should taste good, and I am not willing to give up taste for health.” More than half of consumers cite “rising food prices” as a barrier to healthy eating, and 54 percent of consumers agree that “healthy foods are too expensive to eat regularly.”

    Convenience stores can meet the consumer need for both indulgent and tasty, inexpensive healthy options by doing more of what many have already begun to do: add some reasonably priced fresh fruit and vegetables to their assortment.

    Healthy choices are often about easy availability of those options. The convenience channel is uniquely positioned to carry healthy snacking and fill-in trip items to aid consumers, such as healthy fruits and vegetables within reach.

    Produce aisles in grocery stores now contain portable, convenient, prepackaged cut fruit and vegetables that are often sold with dip or dressing. Convenience stores could follow suit. Even carrying whole produce would still assist consumers from a snacking perspective, as well as for a quick fill-in trip.

    Americans have good intentions when it comes to their health goals, but there is still a disparity between their ambitions and their appetite. By understanding consumer beliefs vs. behaviors, as well as the obstacles getting in the way of healthy aspirations, the industry can solve consumer pain points and have a positive effect on consumer health and wellness.

    By Sherry Frey, Nielsen Perishables Group
    • About Sherry Frey Sherry Frey is vice president of the Nielsen Perishables Group, an industry expert in fresh food research and consulting. With primary responsibility for managing the perishables retail and supplier client service teams, she guides clients in developing business strategies to best understand and meet the needs of key customers. Frey can be reached at [email protected]

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