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Consumers seek healthy fats as low-fat trend fades

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 17-Oct-2011
Last updated the 17-Oct-2011 at 12:07 GMT

Consumers are beginning to reject low-fat diets as they become better informed of the health benefits of certain fats and oils, according to new research from Packaged Facts.

The market research organization’s latest report, “Fats and Salad/Cooking Oils in the U.S.: Butter, Margarine, Olive Oil, and Beyond”, said that the oils and fats market had been boosted by a growing number of studies highlighting the health benefits of certain oils. Consumers are beginning to understand that ‘low-fat’ does not necessarily mean that products are healthier, and they are becoming better educated about the health benefits of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

“As a result, consumers who had embraced low-fat diets for years are returning to foods and beverages that feature the better-for-you fats, all in keeping with the larger healthier eating trend that is shaping the food industry,” Packaged Facts said.

Dietary recommendations to reduce saturated fat consumption are largely based on the notion that high levels increase risk of heart disease, but unless saturated fat is replaced with other, healthy fats, many studies have suggested that fat reduction could increase heart disease risk. Researchers have suggested that this link could be largely due to Americans’ tendency to replace calories from fat with calories from refined carbohydrates when following low-fat diets, among other factors.

From 2007-2011, consumer demand has shifted instead toward consuming healthier oils, such as olive oil, canola oil and oil blends, the market researcher said.

“Increased consumer demand has prompted manufacturers to bring new foods and beverages to market touting healthy fats and oils content,” said Packaged Facts’ publisher David Sprinkle. “And these products have sold well enough, even in tough times, that they’ve emerged as relatively recession-proof compared to other food categories.

“Some may point out that many fats and oils such as butter, margarine, and cooking oils are household staples that consumers will always buy, but make no mistake, this newfound health perspective is driving sales.”

Packaged Facts estimates that US retail sales of fats and oils reached nearly $9.2bn in 2011, up from $8.2bn in 2007. It projects that sales will reach $10.6bn by 2016, with annual growth rates of 2% in 2012, increasing to 3.5% by 2016.

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