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Consumers demand guilt-free indulgence

By Laura Crowley , 06-Feb-2008

There is increasing scope for healthy yet indulgent products as consumers refuse to sacrifice taste for nutrition, according to a new Datamonitor study.

Despite active attempts to eat healthily, obesity prevails because of lifestyle changes and food choices, says the report, "Obesity, Dieting, Exercise and the Future of Food and Drink - Understanding consumer attitudes and behaviours". "Ultimately, food choice is determined by sensory attributes such as taste and pleasure, and consumers will not sacrifice these attributes in favour of nutritional goodness," said consumer market analyst Michael Hughes. Manufacturers of healthy food and drink must therefore drive home the message that their products do not compromise on taste. Contradictions Insights into consumer needs and attitudes suggest that health and wellbeing are increasingly important to consumers and they are taking active steps towards self medication, better nutrition and healthier lifestyles. Datamonitor's survey found that 65 per cent of Europeans and Americans made active attempts to eat healthier in 2005-2006. The most common approach to weight management proved to be reducing saturated fat intake, which 74 per cent of recipients said they did. This was followed closely by reducing sugar intake (68 per cent) and controlling calorie intake (64 per cent). Still, the World Health Organisation's (WHO) latest projections indicate that globally, in 2005, approximately 1.6bn adults were overweight and 400m were obese. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight. WHO further predicts that by 2015 approximately 2.3bn adults will be overweight and more than 700m will be obese. The report discusses three main causes of the rise in obesity:

  • More sedentary lifestyles leading to an imbalance between energy intake and expenditure
  • A genetic link with obesity
  • Cultural and social influences on food consumption

Pleasure comes first Hughes told FoodNavigator.com the study got opinions from 15,000 people across EU member states. He said: "When discussing food choices, pleasure always comes first before hunger and necessity. There is a gap in the market for companies to offer products that offer sensory attributes and guilt-free indulgence." Despite Datamonitor's Productscan showing that dietary products and healthy alternatives are witnessing the largest growth in the food and drink market, respondents said they still associated healthy food with negative aspects in terms of taste and texture. Healthy snacks Statistical results have shown that 35 per cent of consumers choose at least one healthy snack every day. Consumption of healthy snacks is expected to rise by 9 per cent by 2011. Hughes said manufacturers need to recognise this desire for healthy snacks and meet market demands, as lifestyle changes mean people are eating more on the move. Manufacturers have to focus on the taste aspects in their marketing, to drive home the message that they consider taste to be just as important as health, suggested Hughes. Labelling Nutrition labelling has been a much debated issue recently both in the UK and in Europe, in a bid to help consumers make healthy choices to combat obesity. Datamonitor's Productscan showed that products in the 100 calorie pack formats are becoming increasing popular. The European Commission has also voted in a new labelling proposal that requires products to show energy, fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates, with specific reference to sugars and salt content of the product, expressed in terms of per 100ml/100g or per portion, as well as reference intakes. Hughes told FoodNavigator.com that this should help consumers make the right choices. "Although consumers are moderating what they eat and drink with greater regularity, they still want to maintain a sense of normality when dieting. Focusing on the good nutrients in food and drink makes dieting easier and less compromising," he said. It should also allow manufacturers to place more focus on flagging up the taste aspects of the product, suggested Hughes. Advice for industry Datamonitor drew up recommendations for the industry amid this current climate:

  • Companies need to find means to work with their existing portfolio by using portion control and labelling to help consumers make healthy choices
  • They must consider the opportunities arising from regulations and revised guidelines give you
  • Taste and price must be important elements of the product mix alongside health benefits
  • Manufacturers should take advantage of growth in indulgent categories but consider social responsibility implications

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