NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Counting carbs may be here to stay for generations to come, but will likely be absorbed into general health maintenance like the low-fat and low-cholesterol initiatives, a panel of experts reported to the Annual Meat Conference here.
For meat departments, the news is particularly good, but the news isn't that bad for other departments either, one study shows.
Michelle Barry, vice president, qualitative research, The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash., said a just-completed poll by the group indicates the the majority of those surveyed had made only moderate changes, if any at all, in their eating habits and most fell into a group that only occasionally counts carbs.
In fact, only 5% of respondents were "core," or strict, low-carb dieters following a formal plan, and most of those were dieting for the short term, such as a wedding or reunion. Only 1% qualified as long-term, core low-carb dieters and usually their diets were driven by specific medical conditions such as diabetes.
"We found that 67% of our respondents fell into the 'moderate' category, and 28% were 'peripherals,' those probably not interested in a low-carb diet," Barry said. "Moderation is the key. Rather than making drastic changes, people are much more likely to make small additions or cut back here and there, depending on the occasion."
Indeed, the researchers found that most consumers view formal low-carb diet plans with a high degree of skepticism, feeling they are gimmicky or even unhealthy.
On the contrary, "just watching" carbs is not diet-driven, but a lifestyle-driven component of living and eating healthier, and it will continue, Barry pointed out.
Meanwhile, Barry's fellow panelist, Randy Irion, director of retail marketing services for the Boulder, Colo.-based National Cattlemen's Beef Association, presented insights into a retail-level pilot project that so far shows consumers are responding positively to additional nutrition information about micronutrients on labels on meat products.
The research is being conducted at Kroger/Fry's units in Phoenix, and at Harris Teeter units in Charlotte, N.C., by Uetz Enterprises and King Marketing Services.
What the Hartman study and the NCBA study show beyond a doubt is that today's consumers want to know the particulars about the food they're buying. As one retailer told SN, the low-carb diet trend has ratcheted up everybody's awareness, turning many more shoppers into label readers.
"Just during this past year, I've seen men, and even kids, picking up packages and reading the nutrition information," he said.
Part of the impetus behind the NCBA's nutrition-labeling project is to make consumers aware of beef's total attributes while carb counting is in full swing.
The pilot study is employing different modes at store-level to deliver the additional nutrition messages. They include point-of-sale materials such as posters, wobblers, on-pack stickers and, at Fry's, rail strips. On all, some additional nutrition information is offered.
Who's Eating How
The poll shows the vast majority of carb-related dieting is geared toward general well-being, and not a specific plan. Even the minority considered "core users" said it was looking to stay on a diet no longer than three months. In fact, just 1% of that core group is made up of long-termers, primarily as a result of specific health conditions like diabetes.