We’re all guilty of it. Every January, at New Year’s, we reflect on the previous year and resign to make changes for the better. More often than not, those resolutions involve what we eat and many of us pledge to eat healthier. This hopefully translates into eating more nutritious foods, like apples and other fruit! However, it’s no secret that just as often there is a disconnect between what we say and what we actually do.
In 2007, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation released its Food & Health Survey, highlighting consumer attitudes toward food, health, and nutrition and revealing “diet disconnects” among consumers. The survey is a valuable snapshot highlighting the gap between Americans’ desire to have a more healthful diet and the reality of converting this desire into day-to-day behavior. For those of us in the produce industry, the annual survey is a good barometer of how open consumers are to our health messages and how likely they are to eat healthy foods, like apples, as a result of those messages.
What we learned from this research is that, for the most part, consumers do know about food, nutrition, and health. They are interested and they are trying to make changes, but there is a huge challenge in actually making those behavior changes.
Two-thirds of those surveyed did, in fact, report having made changes to improve the healthfulness of their diet in the last year. The desire to lose weight and the goal to improve overall well-being are among the top reasons for these changes. But only half actually describe their diet as “healthful,” and even fewer (one in six) say they eat five or more fruits and vegetables per day.
Not surprisingly, IFIC suggests that the disconnect lies in time management. Two-thirds are concerned with their weight, and a similar number describe themselves as “overweight” or “extremely overweight or obese.” Though concerned, many Americans struggle to manage their hectic schedules and likewise, have a difficult time balancing diet and exercise.
So what drives consumers to make purchasing decisions? As usual, taste and price win out over healthfulness as top factors influencing food and beverage purchase decisions. But in 2007, healthfulness actually ranked higher in influence than convenience — a significant change from previous findings — and consumers are using nutrition information sources and packaging to help them make food-buying decisions.
It’s What’s Inside That Counts
Food packages are often consulted when consumers are deciding to purchase or consume foods and beverages, particularly when purchasing a product for the first time. Nine out of 10 consumers use at least one source of information on the package. Most often, they report consulting the packaging for expiration dates, the Nutrition Facts Panel, and ingredients.
Americans are beginning to recognize the relationship that certain foods or food components may have in reducing the risk of certain diseases. In 2005, 92% of Americans recognized that fiber, found in fruits, vegetables, and some breads and cereals, is good for maintaining a healthy digestive system. In addition, 83% recognized that fiber may reduce the risk of cancer, and 78% recognized that fiber may reduce the risk of heart disease.
Consumers are looking for foods and beverages, like apples and apple products, that can provide improved heart health, overall wellness, improved stamina, and improved digestive health. Consumption of apple and apple products has the potential to grow considerably as consumers become more interested in “functional foods,” or foods with added benefits.
Given all of the health benefits, consumers who are looking to make healthful changes can choose apples, knowing that they will benefit from an excellent source of fiber and cancer-fighting antioxidants, which have been linked to improved heart and digestive health, as well as a reduced risk of cancer. Fortunately, those who are more taste-conscious than health-conscious are in luck, too — nothing beats the taste of a fresh, crisp, juicy apple. Now that’s a New Year’s resolution worth keeping.