WASHINGTON -- The onset of nutrition labeling has caused significant shifts in what consumers buy -- and no longer buy -- from the supermarket dairy case, according to the latest consumer study jointly released by the Food Marketing Institute here and Prevention magazine.
"The dairy case is where the greatest proportion of shoppers start buying new products based on the label, and it is also the focus of shoppers who decide to stop buying products," said the report, Shopping For Health 1996, released late last month.
The reason for all this change last year and in the last several years is the unending quest to cut down fat intake to lose weight.
The study found that 58% of Americans almost always read the nutrition labels on products before buying them for the first time. Fat content is the item most read first -- 55% -- according to the study. Another 25% listed fat as one of the first three items they check out.
Almost a quarter of shoppers who claim they read nutrition labels said that within the last six months, they started buying a food they had not purchased before specifically because of information from the nutrition label.
Of those who read nutrition labels, another third have stopped buying a particular food in the last six months because of that information. Almost three-quarters of those who reported buying a new food said they did so because of fat content.
Fat content is also the major reason 59% of the respondents dropped a food, the study found. That bodes well for low- and no-fat dairy items, but not so well for traditional dairy products, the study found. The ramifications from consumer attitudes toward certain dairy products are clear, according to the study. A total of 26% of shoppers who said they stopped buying foods after reading their nutrition labels mentioned one or more dairy products as the casualties. For instance, 8% said it affected their butter and margarine purchases, 5% said cheese purchases suffered, and 5% put ice cream on the hit list of items they have stopped buying and using.
Those items were essentially the same as were named in last year's survey, the report said.
On the other hand, of shoppers who said they have changed their diets, a quarter listed a low- or no-fat dairy item as one they have started purchasing. Seven percent pointed to low-fat milk, 6% listed margarine and 3% said they are buying low-fat or no-fat cheese and yogurt now thanks to nutrition labels.