Consumers Want Less Sugar And Salt, Worry Less About Fat

Alan McStravick for – Your Universe online

Earlier this month, redOrbit reported about how food marketers were pulling some interesting tricks out of their bag to convince the casual consumer that a patently unhealthy item might actually be considered a healthful option. Many consumers, however, don’t need to be told that slapping the word ‘antioxidant’ on a bottle of Cherry 7-Up doesn’t make it a better drink option than, say, water or natural fruit or vegetable juice.

Despite packaging and advertising trickery, many consumers are using their common sense to try and eat more sensibly rather than trying to adopt a diet mentality that often ends with dissatisfaction and disappointment at the results.

At this year’s Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo, held in New Orleans this week, it was revealed in a panel discussion that greater than 50 percent of consumers have actively expressed an interest in products with reduced levels of salt and sugar. Unfortunately, food packaging practice is maintaining a focus on advertising the low- or no-fat attribute of a product.

The panel also cited recent research which shows that only ¼ of consumers claimed they were dieting, yet more than 70 percent of consumers stated they did actually want to lose weight.

“Consumers know they need to take care of their health,” said Lynn Dornblaser, director, innovation & insight, Mintel Group, Ltd. “They want to lose weight, but they don’t like the idea of dieting. They know that living a healthy lifestyle is all about moderation.”

As noted by the panel, a shift in consciousness by many consumers has been realized in the reduction in desire for low- and no-fat options and the increase in the desire for foods that contain less sodium and sugar. More than 50 percent of consumers surveyed identified a reduction in sodium and sugar as being more important than calorie and carbohydrate count and reduced fat.

“And yet in the US market, it’s all about low- or no-fat claims,” said Dornblaser. “Products that make a low-sugar, low-calorie or low-sodium claim are less prevalent.”

Dornblaser’s singling out the US is important. This is because in Europe and the rest of the world, food marketing focusing on no- or low-fat is less common.

Despite US companies still extolling the fat content of their products, they have been quietly and slowly reducing sugar and salt levels in response to consumer demands. Food producers have recognized that consumers are keenly looking at their nutritional labels, especially with regard to the overall sodium and sugar content in the product.

Dornblaser recognizes the slow adoption on behalf of the food producers because “most consumers know that less sodium means less taste.” For this reason, we are seeing products that promote healthier sodium levels but also tout the good taste of the product.

The panel discussion also took a look at some of the emerging consumer trends that may actually send mixed messages to food producers:

* Consumers consistently rank taste as the most important food attribute (88 percent), followed by appetite satisfaction or satiety (87 percent), and value (86 percent).

* Food that was grown or made locally was important to just 36 percent of consumers.

* “Artisan” food, a relatively undefined term to reflect non-processed food, or food made by hand or by a small firm, was deemed important by 36 percent of consumers.

* Thirty-three percent of consumers stated that “organic” was an important food attribute.

Also on the panel, Joanne L. Slavin, professor in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, stated that the US Dietary Guidelines for 2015 will likely again recommend lower levels of both sugar and salt in food products. Additionally, she also anticipates continued, “movement toward whole foods and away from nutrients,” and reference to trending topics “such as sustainability, gluten, vegan diets and food processing.”

“Consumers look to flavor first, health attributes second,” said Dornblaser. “Any (food producer) has to keep that in mind. Consumers aren’t afraid of sugar or salt, they’re afraid of too much sugar or salt. The way to do that overtly and covertly is reduce when you can. Consumers do look at the nutrition statement.”

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