The number of consumers becoming more “mindful” about their health may be increasing, but the trend is not changing purchasing habits, according to a Feb. 18 webinar covering the 2015 Sweetener 360 annual research study.
“We are thinking more about health, but we are not acting more on health,” said Sara Martens, vice-president of the research service provider MSR Group and a Sweetener 360 research analyst.
Food Business News put on the webinar. The Washington-based Corn Refiners Association commissioned the study, which was completed in part by Mintel and Nielsen Consulting. The 2015 study combined the purchase behavior of 15,552 Nielsen Homescan panelists with their consumer survey responses. It divided consumers into six segments.
The consumer segment with the most mindful attitudes toward health and wellness, called healthy balance seekers, rose to 19% of U.S. households in this year’s study, which made it the largest segment and was up from 15% in last year’s study. This type of consumer balances a desire for healthy food with the importance of taste and price, Ms. Martens said. The “mindful” shopper, or healthy balance seeker, wants to buy healthy food but also food that the family actually will eat.
Within this segment, 46% said it is important to buy food or beverage products not made with high-fructose corn syrup. Yet people in the segment, which makes up 19% of U.S. households, buy 17% of all products formulated with HFCS.
The study also focused on millennials, although millennials did not make up any of the six segments. Forty-six per cent of them said it is worth the sacrifice to pay more for foods and beverages made with sweetener ingredients that they perceive as “better for you.” Yet while millennials make up 20% of all food and beverage purchases, they buy 22% of all products sweetened with HFCS and 21.2% of all products sweetened with sugar.
Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture show a decrease recently for U.S. per-capita consumption of HFCS. Estimated per-capita consumption was 122 calories for 2013, which compared with 127 calories for 2012 and 130 calories for 2011. For refined cane and beet sugar, estimated U.S. per-capita consumption stood at 189 calories in 2013, which compared with 185 calories in 2012 and 183 calories in 2011.
The release of the 2015 Sweetener 360 study came amid recent HFCS-free promotions for several brands, including Capri Sun, Honey Maid Go Bites, and Brookside Dark Chocolate Fruit & Nut Bars.
Ms. Martens said social media has brought attention to sweeteners and other ingredients lately, and ingredients deemed bad for people gain traction in the media, but all the talk has failed to have a great effect on purchasing data. She said companies moving away from HFCS may not be taking purchasing data into account.
Ms. Martens said more people in all six consumer segments this year said they were becoming more mindful about their health. The other five segments were no health worries (9% of U.S. households), too many priorities such as children and price concerns (16%), taste over health (13%), diabetics and dieters (18%), and all-natural shoppers who prioritize health over taste (15%).