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Study Profiles U.S. Dieters

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Dieting is an American way of life. A new survey from Catalina Marketing founds that weight management has a “strong influence” on the grocery purchases of 56% of American shoppers and at least “some influence” on the purchases of another one-third.

Even more striking is the fact that four out of 10 shoppers followed some type of diet in the past year.

Yet, food products promoting themselves as diet-friendly or waistline-smart don’t necessarily fly off the shelves. In large part, that’s because as a group, dieters are a diverse bunch. The study found there are different types of dieters, different goals and different levels of willingness to spend on diet-related products.

For instance, those following name-brand diets or lifestyles spend more than $3,400 on groceries per year, while those who focus simply on low-fat foods, regardless of brand, spend just over $800.

Catalina researchers queried more than 4,000 shoppers and used their answers to create six shopper segments: Low-Fat & Fit, Carb Conscious, Calorie-Conscious, Unconcerned Families, Healthy Habits and Devoted Dieters. Some of the insights for each include:

Low-Fat & Fit (11 million shoppers): This group reports the lowest level of concern managing or losing weight with 41% “very concerned.” Thirty-two percent of this segment says weight-management has a strong influence on the type of groceries they buy.

Carb-Conscious (7.2 million) Forty-six percent are very concerned about managing or losing weight, while 30% state that weight-management has a strong influence on their grocery purchases. Interestingly, this group maintains the highest percentage of men and on average is the youngest.

Calorie Conscious (6.3 million): Forty-eight percent of group members are very concerned about managing or losing weight, while 32% say weight-management has a strong influence on their grocery purchases.

Unconcerned Families (8.5 million): Forty-three percent are very concerned about managing/losing weight. While these individuals tend to spend a significant amount at the grocery store, only 31 % report that weight-management has a strong influence on their grocery purchases.

Healthy Habits (6.7 million): Fifty-one percent claim to be very concerned about managing/losing weight, while 44% report that weight-management has a strong influence on their grocery purchases. The group generally maintains an above-average income, yet their household size is the smallest of all groups (average: 2.5 people).

Devoted Dieters (8.8 million): Nearly half (49%) say they are very concerned about managing or losing weight, while 38% say weight-management has a strong influence on their grocery purchases. These shoppers tend to follow established, easily accessible diet regimens, such as Weight Watchers, Slim-Fast and Atkins.

Given the diversity within these shopper groups, you begin to see the challenges marketers face. According to this study, recruiting new customers may not be as important as holding onto the ones already purchasing the product.

“The goal for manufacturers becomes less about selling to as many shoppers as possible, and more about encouraging high purchase volume from a relatively small core audience – and keeping these loyal consumers loyal,” said Sharon Glass, Catalina Marketing’s group vice president of health and wellness.

I don’t know how many diet-related products hit the market every year, but — given all the media coverage about obesity — I would imagine it’s quite a substantial number. The pace of new product introductions, line extensions and reformulations of existing products all make for a smorgasbord of choices.

And perhaps that’s why diet products aren’t so obvious in selling like crazy. As the study itself points out, even those products that have been around for years face the dilemma of mass consumer defection whenever a new item comes along that works “just a little better.”

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