Healthy Eating Study Finds Ongoing Opportunity for Produce

While fresh fruits and vegetables tend to have a “health halo” with consumers, a new study finds there are still many opportunities for the fruit and vegetable industry to be more aggressive in connecting these products to healthy eating and healthy aging. Sponsored by the Produce Marketing Association (PMA), “Healthy Eating Trends 2009” from Bellevue, Wash.-based The Hartman Group offers a comprehensive look at the attitudes and preferences that guide the food choices consumers make on a daily basis.

“This study is particularly interesting because it is not constrained to specific fresh food departments, channels, store formats or even retail-vs.-foodservice food purchases,” said Julia Stewart, spokeswoman for the Newark, Del.-based PMA. “The implications of the trends identified in this research will really help produce companies focus their health marketing and messaging in the future.”

To make the most of the research, PMA commissioned Steve Lutz of the Chicago-based Perishables Group to develop an overview of key findings and potential implications from the perspective of the fresh food industry.

The study found that healthy eating is largely about healthy aging. “Healthy eating appeals to all groups, but much more so for older age groups,” said The Perishables Group EVP Steve Lutz, EVP in the report’s executive summary. “The concept of using food as a method for achieving ‘healthy aging’ is a significant opportunity for the produce industry.”

Additionally, the research shows some interesting links between consumer perception and knowledge about nutrition and health. “The study determines that consumers think of ingredients as good and bad, but also think of foods more holistically,” wrote Lutz. “The term ‘fresh’ carries an especially strong message for consumers, and potentially more persuasive power than specific content claims made by processed food products.”

The study reveals that although consumers determine the healthfulness of food through nutrition labels, they have a limited understanding of nutrients and healthy compounds prevalent in many fruits and vegetables. “This information must be observable on shelf signage at the retail level or on package labels to impact immediate purchases,” Lutz noted in the executive summary. “To the casual consumer, nutrition labels on raw fruits and vegetables probably do not present a particularly compelling story when compared to the labels on many processed health foods. As a result, more holistic messages regarding the broader health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables are potentially more powerful.”

The research also noted how traditional supermarkets and restaurants may be at a disadvantage perception-wise when it comes to health-conscious consumers. Farmers’ markets and natural/health food stores score higher and outperform traditional food channels when consumers are asked about where they shop for the healthiest food. Healthy eating away from home is primarily connected with finding healthy alternatives that don’t appear to compromise the quality food experience.

“Retailers and suppliers should be identifying opportunities to work together to better communicate the freshness and overall health messages for their products in conventional retail stores,” said Lutz.

“Healthy Eating Trends 2009” and Rhe Perishable Group summary can be accessed free of charge by PMA members at Consumer Research Online subscribers can access this and other PMA consumer research via their company-wide online subscription.
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