It has become a tug of war when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet for most Americans, according to a newly released survey -- "What America Eats 2005," commissioned by Parade Magazine, New York.
While Americans are well intentioned when it comes to eating healthy foods, they often find themselves succumbing to food indulgences. Finding the time to procure, prepare and eat is often a roadblock to consuming more nutritious foods, the survey indicated.
The food shopping venue of choice for 79% of consumers is the traditional supermarket and grocery retailer. Food retailers have an opportunity here to raise shoppers' healthy eating standards by making it easier and more convenient for them to purchase nutritious foods. A majority (77%) of consumers said they look for ways to make it easier to shop for foods that are healthy and better for their families.
Some of the ways retailers can achieve this is by merchandising healthy meal solutions, offering easy-and-fast recipes, selling prepared fresh and nutritious meals and promoting healthy foods by being conscious of price and value, suggests Fran Carpentier, Parade's senior editor.
"There needs to be more prevalent positioning in-store [of healthy products]. Perhaps, locate healthy versions of known brands together instead of lumping them in with their less healthy counterparts," she said. More attention must also be paid to pricing of healthy products and their taste, Carpentier added.
These are just a few of the findings in Parade's biennial report on consumers' eating habits, meal preparation and food shopping preferences.
Parade, a division of Conde Nast, which also owns Fairchild Publications, the parent company of Supermarket News, has conducted the survey since 1987. The 15-page survey was mailed earlier this year to over 4,000 households, whose members range in age from 18 to 65. Mark Clements Research conducted the survey, and received 2,964 responses, a 74% response rate. Findings in the report are based on 2,088 respondents. This year's survey took a close look at health and diet to ascertain Americans' perception of healthy eating and to gauge what steps they are taking to live a healthier lifestyle. "Our goal is to capture relevant trends and attitudes," Carpentier said. Last year, the study focused in on the low-carb diet. "With the death of the carb craze, we wanted to expand the questioning to determine what Americans were doing to lead a healthy lifestyle," Carpentier said.
The biggest surprise to come out of this year's survey is "perception vs. reality when it comes to Americans' eating habits," Carpentier noted.
The survey found many consumers (42%) do eat a well-balanced diet of meat/fish, vegetables/fruits, grains and dairy. However, as a reward for their healthy eating, they indulge in snacks and other pleasure foods. "It's a 'balancing act' between eating healthy but with indulgent rewards," Carpentier said.
One of those rewards is eating less healthy fast and convenience foods, which also save consumers valued time. Three square meals a day are often sacrificed by half of the consumers with the majority (71%) saying they skip breakfast, considered to be the most important meal of the day by nutritionists. Over a third (37%) said they skip lunch, and only 11% said they skip dinner.
"Most people are eating breakfast at home, so a healthy breakfast needs to start on the supermarket shelves," Carpentier noted. "The whole-grain message has taken hold -- 42% of respondents are influenced by whole-grain cereals with low sugar not far behind."
Then there are nearly a quarter (23%) of consumers who said they eat whatever they like regardless of whether the food is considered good for them. Only 4% called themselves a "health nut" -- one who eats fruits and vegetables, and avoids preservatives, processed foods, fast foods, and salty or high-sugar snacks.
"Most Americans 'think skinny' but 'eat fat,' Carpentier said. "The biggest challenge is eating foods we know to be good for us on an everyday basis. Less than half said they eat a well-balanced diet but the majority feel obesity is a crisis that should be addressed by the government and food industry. Americans are still not conquering the problem at home." Consumers also said they are eating more chicken (40%), vegetables (46%) and salad (44%) than they were two years ago. Others said they have cut down their consumption of beef (30%), pasta (32%) and bread (33%).
While a large majority said they do not eat either lamb (73%) or veal (69%), fish -- touted for its benefits of omega-3 fatty acids that protect against heart disease and strokes -- is being eaten more by 31% of consumers, according to the survey. Just 15% of Americans said they do not eat fish, and 46% said they are eating the same amount of fish as two years ago. It is unclear whether the negative news of high levels of toxic mercury found in some species of fish have negatively impacted the benefits of eating fish for some consumers.
As for branded packaged food purchases, more consumers are buying brands that have reduced fat (40%), 100% whole grain (33%), or are low in calories (29%) and high in fiber (29%).
A question about the U.S. Department of Agriculture food pyramid revealed the majority of Americans (59%) are familiar with the pyramid, and 34% said they incorporate aspects of it in their diets. Yet, over a quarter of consumers (26%) said they were not familiar with the new guidelines introduced by the USDA this year that revised the old pyramid and takes more of an individual approach to dietary recommendations and exercise.
"Despite a big public relations push, the majority of Americans are not following the USDA's recommendations. The government and food companies need to do more to incorporate the recommendations into everyday living. Only half of the country knows the new guidelines were introduced in 2005," Carpentier said.
Dieting Fall Out
A surprising number of consumers (75%) said they aren't dieting, and 62% said they haven't been following any diet in the last two years. For the remainder (25%) who said they were on a diet, the average weight they said they wanted to lose was 45 pounds.
"Americans may not be on a specific diet," Carpentier said, "but they are making changes. We are eating more salads and vegetables and less pasta and bread. We also are eating fewer sweets and indulging in smaller portions. The word diet is not resonating with Americans anymore."
A large number of respondents (94%) said they "strongly" and "somewhat agree" that portion control is a good way to maintain one's weight.
Three years ago, supermarkets couldn't seem to get enough low-carb products on their shelves to meet consumer demand, but demand and interest in low-carb diets and products appear to have fallen out of favor among the surveyed respondents. When asked what features would influence their brand purchases, less than a quarter of consumers (21%) selected reduced/low carbohydrates.
When asked why they don't buy low-carb foods, 45% said, "They are of no interest." Over a third (37%) said they simply do not buy diet products, and nearly a quarter (23%) said taste was an issue in buying low-carb products. When asked if reducing carbohydrates was a permanent change in their eating habits, over half (55%) said, "Not at all." But 42% said they "strongly or somewhat" agree that watching carbs has become a permanent change in their eating habits. A large majority (72%) agreed that the carb craze was a fad. Nearly half (48%) said they "do not buy low-carb/
reduced-carb versions of packaged food products," and 37% said they "do not see any need to watch or limit the amount of carbs in their diets."
"The carb craze is over," Carpentier said, noting that 75% of consumers agreed that eliminating something from one's diet is unhealthy.
In responding to questions on weight, diet and following a healthy lifestyle, the majority of consumers agreed with the following health-related statements:
84% said they usually try to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet.
77% said they consider themselves to lead a healthy lifestyle.
71% believe obesity is a serious crisis that needs to be addressed by the government.
80% believe obesity is a serious crisis that needs to be addressed by food companies.
When it comes to their concerns about their weight, 55% said they were concerned with their weight and eating habits, 43% said they weren't at all concerned.
Supermarkets No. 1 Venue
When it comes to food shopping, the vast majority of consumers (79%) go to supermarkets. This is followed by the neighborhood grocery store (38%). Wholesale clubs won 24% of the consumers to their venue for food. Internet delivery such as FreshDirect drew less than 1% of the consumers. The survey did not query consumers on other alternative formats that sell food, including supercenters.
The time constraints placed on consumers also may be indicated by the fact that 67% said they don't plan to shop for food on any one particular day. Those (35%) that do shop on one particular day choose Saturday, which is the second most popular day of the week to food shop, according to statistics from Food Marketing Institute. Sunday is the most popular day, FMI said, when the largest percentage of consumers (21%) go food shopping. Consumers indicated price is a big factor in their purchasing decisions, but taste was equally weighted with price for most consumers. Most respondents (97%) said taste was "very or somewhat" important in their decision to buy a product, (97%) said price was important and 90% said a product on sale was highly important in their product purchasing decisions.
Convenience, Eating Out and Snacks
Many consumers (60%) said they are buying the same amount of convenience foods as they did two years ago; 74% said they are doing so because it saves them in preparation and cooking time. About a quarter (26%) said they only serve these dinners when they have to. Saving time is more important than price to consumers in buying convenience foods, they said, although 36% said they prefer to buy convenience products with a cents-off coupon or on sale. Few consumers (11%) consider convenience foods less expensive, and only 28% said they were worth the added expense.
About a quarter of Americans said they eat out at a fast-food restaurant (McDonald's/Burger King/ Wendy's) either once a week (20%) or once a month (26%). Another quarter of Americans said they eat at a quick-service outlet (23%) or casual-dining restaurant (21%) once a month. Nearly an equal percentage of consumers (25%) said they never eat at a quick-serve such as Subway, Quiznos, Boston Market, or casual-dining facility (23%) such as Bennigan's, Ruby Tuesday or Applebee's.
"Over half [54%] of Americans eat out as a treat for themselves and their families," Carpentier said. "Supermarkets can offer prepared meals or 'treats' that can easily be served at home to give the feel of eating out. Another opportunity is to provide 'soup to nuts' type of meals."
About a third (36%) of consumers said they eat out because they don't have enough time to prepare dinner every night of the week or they (31%) have a coupon or special offer that entices them to eat out.
Snack foods, which is about a $23.4 billion industry, according to the latest figures from the Snack Food Association, often replaces a meal for a quarter to a third of consumers. When asked if snacks replace a meal, 37% said snacks often take the place of lunch when there is not time to eat a meal, 26% said snacks replace a meal when they can't decide what to eat for lunch or dinner and 21% of consumers consider snacks a treat.
Most adults (56%) and many teens (47%) snack in the evening while watching television. Fifty-four percent of children under 13 snack during the afternoon.
The most popular snacking items for about three-quarters of adults and children are fruit, popcorn and ice cream. Attributes that influence snack purchases are taste and requests from kids, according to survey respondents.
Nearly two-thirds of adults (61%) said they purchase single-serve snacks. The most popular single-serve items are yogurt (56%) and pudding snack packs (38%).
When it comes to take-out foods, consumers said pizza (78%), Chinese food (53%) and fast food (35%) were their favorite foods.
"Snacking is a phenomenon that won't go away," Carpentier said. "Most Americans snack at night, in front of the TV. Supermarkets can offer more entertainment/food integration. For example, buy popcorn and get a free movie. Fruit has increased in popularity and is now the No. 1 snack among adults. However, cookies and ice cream are still staples of the snack drawer."
Other Noteworthy Findings
It appears the frequency of consumers who say they cook on weekdays (51%) and on weekends (57%) has stayed steady over the last two years.
Sixty-eight percent of consumers say they want variety in their meals and look for new ideas in cookbooks (68%), food magazines (57%) and from family/ friends/co-workers (54%). In trying out a new recipe, the attribute most consumers look for is easy preparation, said 71% of respondents. A quarter of consumers said they prepare meals from recipes once a month. A smaller percentage of consumers said they either prepare meals from recipes more frequently, less frequently or never.
It's no surprise that fewer consumers are baking than in the past. Nearly a quarter (21%) said they never bake, and 19% said they only bake for holidays and special occasions. Less than a quarter of consumers said they bake on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. For those who do bake, they usually use some kind of prepared ingredients. Just 29% said they usually bake completely from scratch.
Interest in ethnic foods of all kinds is driven by extensive leisure travel and closer ties to other cultures through the mass media and the Internet. Nearly two-thirds of consumers (61%) said they are eating the same amount of ethnic foods as they did two years ago; 18% said they are eating more and 16% said they are eating less. More than a third of Americans said they have either prepared or eaten Italian, Mexican or Chinese foods. Nearly a quarter said they are interested in trying French, Greek, Caribbean or Latin cuisine.
While dieting appears to be on the wane, desserts are definitely favored despite the added sweets and calories. The majority of Americans (87%) said they eat desserts one or more times during the week. The average was three times a week.
When it comes to shopping, females (71%) do the majority of it -- no surprises here. But, 57% of consumers said the spouse/partner does the majority of food shopping. When it comes to cooking, the percentages indicate that males edged out females with 67% of males cooking during the week, compared to 63% of women. On weekends, from 61% to 62% of males cook, compared with 54% to 56% of females, according to survey results. These results may reflect changes in various types of households and lifestyles, Carpentier noted.
'Tis the Season
For consumers, the holidays are mainly a time to stay home with the family. Only 8% said they would go out to eat for holidays and special occasions. Sixty percent did not agree with the statement "I would rather eat out and have a meal catered than prepare a large holiday meal." Many (47%) make family recipes or have family members contribute to parts of the meal (24%).
This is not a time to try out a new recipe, said 10% of the consumers. The turkey was listed as the favorite part of a holiday meal for 28% of consumers.
The bottom line is, when it comes to healthy eating, Americans score "good, not great," Carpentier said. "Culpability needs to begin at home instead of putting the focus on government and the food industry."
Which best describes your eating habits?
1. Balancing Act 42%
2. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly 31%
3. Anything Hoes 23%
4. Health Nut 4%
Many Americans say they eat a well-balanced diet of meat/fish, vegetables/fruits, grains and dairy. However, they admit to indulging in snacks and pleasure foods as a reward.
Are you currently on a diet to lose weight?
Yes 25%; No 75%
A large percentage of those surveyed said they are not dieting. The average amount of weight of those who are dieting want to lose is 46 pounds.
1. Balancing Act Tries to maintain a well-balanced diet, but admits to eating foods not considered healthy.
2. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly Hectic lifestyle leads to hectic diet. Always on the go so rely on fast-food and convenience foods. When I have time, I try to eat healthier.
3. Anything Goes Eat whatever I want. Do not pay attention to nutritional facts and figures. I live to eat not eat to live.
4. Health Nut Generally eat healthy foods. Eat fruits and vegetables, avoid preservatives, processed foods and fast food. Do not eat salty or high-sugar snacks.
Source: What America Eats 2005, Parade Magazine
44% said they are eating fewer sweets
36% have cut down their portion sizes
30% said they are eating a more well-balanced diet
27% have cut down on sugar
25% said they are eating foods lower in fat
What's For Breakfast
Which of the following would you consider to be a healthy breakfast?
Bagle with butter or cream cheese 34%
If you eat fewer than thre meals a day, which one do you usually skip?
A large percentage of Americans list relatively healthy items as their healthy breakfast choices, with the largest percentage of consumers choosing fruit, as they did for their top snack choice. However, a third preferred a bagel with butter or cream cheese, known for its high calories and fat, as their healthy choice for breakfast. Snacks were also a substitute meal for many Americans, with popcorn, ice cream and cookies high on their list of favorite items.
Half of Americans skip a daily meal, and most skip breakfast -- decisions nutritionists consider not to be very healthy.
Source: What America Eats 2005, Parade Magazine
What America Eats: Trends
Time is a commodity for most Americans, who buy more expensive convenience foods to cut prep and cooking time.
Use of convenience foods has risen 49% in a decade
1993: 61%; 2003: 91%
Source: What America Eats 2005, Parade Magazine
Americans are spending less time preparing dinner. Ideally, Americans would like to spend an average of 27 minutes preparing dinner.
How much time do you spent preparing dinner?
1993: 49 minutes; 2003: 31 minutes
Source: What America Eats 2005, Parade Magazine
Fewer Americans are food shopping on a specific day of the week, indicating multiple alternative food-outlet choices and fill-in stops during the week.