Consumers Offer To Pay More To Satisfy Health Demands

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Anyone aware of the expression "put your money where your mouth is" knows that spending choices can illuminate our priorities, as individuals and as a nation. So, food companies, restaurants and home cooks that provide healthy options should take heart: U.S. consumers are willing to increase grocery spending for healthier foods -- a major turning point in shopping behavior. The reasons? Consumers are trying to avoid trans fats, increase intake of the "good fats" or boost consumption of beneficial ingredients like soy protein. Results released today from the 2007 Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition survey -- the 14th annual research study sponsored by the United Soybean Board (USB) -- uncovered these findings.

The study found 60 percent of consumers express a willingness to pay extra for healthier foods, reversing a four-year downward trend and a seven percent rise over 2006 alone. Independent market research by groups, such as Global Industry Analysts, confirms this surge. They report the functional foods market is expected to reach $109 billion by 2010 due to key factors, such as growing income levels, changing lifestyles, increasing health awareness, the trend towards convenience foods and an aging population.

"The fact that consumers say they will dig deeper into their pocketbooks for healthier versions of food represents a significant shift in attitude," said Lisa Kelly, MPH, R.D. "Consumers want nutritious products that are readily available at the grocery store. Fortunately, healthful eating can be quite affordable."

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As a prime example of desired food product changes, two-thirds of consumers in the USB study say they would be more likely to purchase a favorite product if it were reformulated with zero grams trans fat and noted on the package, up 10 percent over last year. Half of today's consumers report it unlikely they would purchase foods with trans fat listed on the label.

News and information about "good" versus "bad" fats also resonates with these health-minded shoppers. In a continuing upward trend, 62 percent of consumers report that implementing a moderate-fat diet, including "good fats," is an effective strategy for improving overall health (up 15 percent over 2006). And, 70 percent of consumers rate omega-3 fatty acids as healthy.

"Our nation's soybean growers are proud that soybean oil provides a heart-smart solution for consumers," noted Steve Poole, Director of Soy Protein and Edible Oils programs for USB. Soybean oil, commonly labeled as vegetable oil, contains zero grams of trans fat, no cholesterol and is low in saturated fat -- a fat Poole cautions consumers to also "keep a watchful eye on for intake." Soybean oil provides the poly- and monounsaturated ("good") fats that reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease when replacing saturated fats in the diet, along with heart-healthy vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids.

Turning to soy protein, consumer perception of soy's healthfulness jumped to 85 percent in 2007, up 18 percent from 1998. In fact, a growing number of consumers specifically seek out food products listing soy as an ingredient in order to reap the health benefits of soy, up 10 points over the last three years. "Americans recognize soy for its health benefits, especially in regard to aiding weight management, promoting heart health and reducing the risk of some cancers," added Poole. Soy is an increasingly popular choice at home and dining out, with 25 percent using soy foods or beverages at least once a week.

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