Young couple shopping in a supermarket

Almost all (95%) consumers look for healthy options when food shopping. But only 28% say those healthy foods are “easy” to find, and more than 1 in 10 consumers say it’s “difficult.” These results, from a recent survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation and the American Heart Association, show a disconnect between what consumers want and what they’re getting when it comes to healthfulness information. Fortunately, the results also point to a solution.

Where consumers get their healthfulness information

For the most part, consumers look for healthfulness information exactly where you would expect: the package.

Top sources of healthfulness information

  • The Nutrition Facts panel/nutrition label (69%)
  • The ingredient list (67%)
  • Nutrient content claims on the package (56%)
  • Statements about the absence of certain ingredients (54%)

Some consumers do look at company websites and mobile apps, but for the most part they rely on information easily accessible at the store.

What they’re looking for

Typically, consumers read food packages to find information about ingredients, calorie counts, and sugar, fat, and sodium content.

Consumers are also more likely to look for certain ingredients than for foods that don’t contain certain ingredients, though there is a demographic effect. Older, white consumers in the South or West, as well as consumers with children tend to look for ingredients they want to consume. Those with higher incomes and college-educated consumers are more likely to check the package to avoid certain ingredients.

How labels could make finding healthfulness information easier

While consumers already read labels, the fact that only about one-quarter of them say finding healthy foods is easy suggests that food companies need to do more to communicate healthfulness information. The survey offers a way to bridge the gap: a “healthy” symbol.

  • 86% of consumers agreed that it would be helpful to have a symbol or image on food packages that indicates whether a food is healthy.
  • 80% said they would be more likely to purchase a food whose packaged contained such a symbol or image.

Almost half of respondents said they already look at front-of-package nutrition content icons, like the Facts Up Front label, the Whole Grain stamp, the Heart-Check symbol, and Walmart’s Great For You symbol. But the results suggest that a simplified industry icon, similar to the new date labeling system, could be beneficial.

Making it easier for consumers to find healthy foods might also help food companies gain their trust. When asked which sources of information they trust most, consumers placed food companies third, behind health-focused organizations and government agencies. The difference wasn’t small — only 16% of respondents indicated a high level of trust in food companies, which was less than half of the percentage who said they placed a high level of trust in health-focused organizations (35%) and government agencies (33%).

For more information, including the demographic breakdowns for the results, download the full IFIC/AHA report.

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