Study: Supermarkets Fast Becoming One-Stop, Whole Health Solution

WASHINGTON - American consumers believe that the food they eat can make a significant difference in their health, but many admit that their own diet needs improvement, according to Shopping for Health 2001, just released by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Prevention magazine.

The tenth annual report also finds that consumers are purchasing more fortified foods, organic produce, and prescription drugs at their primary supermarket, further strengthening food retailers' position as a one-stop source for healthy solutions.

The report shows that American shoppers remain relatively unconcerned about genetically modified foods despite increased news coverage of the issue.

Shoppers believe that the food they eat can make a significant difference in their health and well-being, and they often keep this in mind while grocery shopping. Nearly 6 in 10 shoppers (58%) feel they can greatly reduce the risk of certain diseases by eating healthfully. Three-quarters (76%) feel that eating healthfully is a better way to manage an illness than taking medication. And almost 58% claim that their supermarket purchases are greatly affected by health concerns, such as following a doctor's advice or reducing the risk of certain health conditions.

Many survey respondents admit that their diet needs improvement. Seventy percent of shoppers feel their diet could be a lot or somewhat healthier, and half (51%) are trying "a lot" to eat healthfully. Sixty percent of shoppers blamed factors such as nutritional confusion, the perceived high cost of healthy foods, the inconvenience of preparing healthy meals, and the lack of healthy fast-food options as reasons for their own poor eating habits. Only 14% said they are doing little or nothing to eat a healthy diet.

One in five adults (20%) feels their diet is "healthful enough," and 1 in 10 (10%) claims their diet is "as healthy as it could possibly be." Older shoppers are most likely to feel confident about their diets, followed by baby boomers and generation Xers.

"American shoppers are clearly aware of the link between a healthy diet and good health, but they are slow to incorporate this knowledge into their daily routine," says Janice Jones, director of research at FMI. "They are seeking guidance in making these decisions, but they also want any changes to be convenient to their lifestyle."

In trying to make healthy choices at the supermarket, shoppers are looking at nutrition labels more often and seeking health information within the store. The survey finds that 52% of shoppers look at the Nutrition Facts label when they buy a product for the first time. In fact, 26% of shoppers purchased a food item because of information on the Nutrition Facts label, and 34% decided against a purchase because of nutrition label information or a lack thereof.

"Supermarkets are in a prime position to serve the self-care consumer," says Jones. "In addition to offering food, they are providing customers with a broad range of self-care products and free or reduced-cost services such as screenings and vaccinations, consultations with an in-store pharmacist or nutritionist, and printed information."

Among all age groups, over-the-counter medications remain the most popular health product, purchased by 86% of shoppers, up from 79% last year. More than three-quarters (78%) buy foods fortified with vitamins and minerals, and nearly as many (74%) buy vitamin and mineral supplements. Sixty-eight percent purchase prescription medicines if pharmacy services are available at their store.

More than 4 in 10 consumers (42%) have bought some type of organic food to improve their health. Within that group, 34% have bought organic fruits and vegetables, and 21% have bought organic cereals, breads, and pastas. This trend is reflected in annual sales of organic foods, which jumped from $6.5 billion in 1999 to $7.8 billion in 2000.

The report suggests that the steady rise in sales of organic products is being driven mostly by concerns over insecticides and artificial additives, and less by concerns over bioengineering.

Despite extensive media coverage of genetically modified foods in the past year, shoppers appear to have limited knowledge about this subject. In fact, only 12% of shoppers claimed to have heard or read much about such products, and more than 60% of these shoppers believe various applications of agricultural biotechnology are acceptable.

Survey respondents also showed acceptance of irradiation, an FDA-approved food safety process that uses electronbeams to kill harmful pathogens. More than half (57%) of shoppers said they would be "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to buy irradiated foods if available.

Survey data for Shopping for Health 2001 were obtained from telephone interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,200 adults. Respondents have primary or equally shared responsibility for their household's grocery shopping, and they had shopped for groceries in the 2-week period prior to being interviewed. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

To obtain a copy of Shopping for Health 2001 ($35 FMI members/$70 nonmembers), contact FMI Publications and Video Sales at (202) 220-0723, or visit the FMI Web site (