What Americans REALLY Eat

Discussion
Jun 14, 2006
Al McClain

By Al McClain


What Americans believe they should eat, and what they actually eat, often have little in common. In a recent study by Yankelovich, summarized in an article on foodprocessing.com, 82 percent of responding consumers say they are directly responsible for their health and 87 percent think individuals are responsible for the obesity epidemic. Yet, 72 percent say if food doesn’t taste good they won’t eat it, no matter how healthy and nutritious it is.


Respondents identify fruit and vegetables as the top two foods for a healthy diet, yet 60 percent say they eat too few fruits, and 49 percent say they eat too few vegetables. Sixty-six percent identify steaming as the healthiest way to prepare food.


Meanwhile, according to the CDD (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), there were 0 states in 1991 with an obesity occurrence rate of 20 percent or greater. By 2004, there were 33 states with a 20-24 percent occurrence rate, and 9 states with a 25 percent or greater rate.


At this weekend’s GMA (Grocery Manufacturers Association) Executive Conference, Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group, discussed trends from their latest eating survey, which is based on what consumers did in the immediate past. Here are a few of the findings:


OBVIOUS


  • Top five items ordered out – men: burgers, fries, pizza, breakfast sandwich, side salad

  • Top 5 items ordered out – women: fries, burgers, pizza, side salad, Chinese food

  • 70 percent of breakfasts still include coffee

  • Top breakfast items: coffee, cereal, juice, milk, toast, fruit, eggs, hot cereal – with toast on a BIG long-term decline

  • Percentage of consumers eating one or more item per week: 74 percent reduced/low fat; 51 percent light; 39 percent calcium-fortified; 36 percent vitamin-fortified; 25 percent reduced sodium

  • Grilling is at an all time high: 32 percent of meals vs. 17 percent in 1985

SURPRISING?


  • Meals prepared at home AND those eaten in restaurants are declining – with take-out up, and those eaten in the car the biggest portion of that.

  • While the percentage of females in the work force has grown to 59 percent, versus 35 percent in 1950, recently the trend has leveled off and being a stay-at-home mom is perceived by more females as an attractive option (representing an opportunity for in-home meals?)

  • Fastest declining restaurant menu item: salad

  • Fastest growing restaurant menu item: fried chicken (in various forms, and don’t call it fried)

  • Restaurant chains most dependent on women: Tim Horton’s, Starbucks, Piccadilly (cafeteria), Marie Callender

  • Restaurants most dependent on men: Hooter’s (insert joke here), Chipotle, Buffalo Wild Wings, Wienerschnitzel, Waffle House

  • Consumers checking labels often: 52 percent in 1985; 63 percent in 1995; 50 percent in 2006. (Are we tired of seeing that everything is “bad” for us?)

OPPORTUNITIES


  • Carbonated soft drinks are the fastest growing breakfast item, with nearly 8 percent of breakfasts including a soft drink.

  • Percent of in-home meals with at least one fresh item has declined from 55 percent in ’85 to 47 percent now.

  • Yogurt continues to grow, as a stand-alone and an ingredient.

  • In 24 percent of all meals purchased from a restaurant, the consumer never gets out of the car.

  • Taste preferences change VERY slowly.

  • Whole Foods customers eat out 3x as often as supermarket shoppers.

Moderator’s comment: What eating trends are restaurants, food retailers, and suppliers failing to fully leverage? What is holding back food retailers
from adding drive-thrus to compete with restaurants and capitalize on the “eat in the car” trend?

Al McClain – Moderator

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

10 Comments on "What Americans REALLY Eat"


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Richard Alleger
Guest
Richard Alleger
14 years 8 months ago

No one is missing anything…Americans are a fickle bunch, with too many choices, conflicting desires and unacknowledged wants. Our very multi-ethnic culture provides so many opportunities to try so much that individuals have a very difficult time staying with what works health-wise or taste-wise. All of the food purveyors mentioned continue to feel the effect of these facts.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Keeping fruits and vegetables fresh and attractive is a real challenge. Preparing them in advance doesn’t work well; preparing them when ordered can be time consuming; preservatives can take away from the taste of the salad or fruit. As a result, salads at fast food restaurants are not always fresh and good tasting. When faced with a healthy choice that may have wilted vegetables or brown fruit or something that tastes good, what do consumers choose? The food that tastes good. When spending money consumers want to pay for things that taste good. The healthy choices are not always the good tasting ones so consumers don’t choose them. It’s not a surprise.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

Best thing about the survey: it proves that education is not the issue. Americans know what’s good for them. They know they’re not “eating healthy.” The great marketing opportunity: make eating healthy easy, fun, and good-tasting.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

The results presented herein are neither new nor surprising. Taste rules! When taste and nutrition collide taste wins every time. I reviewed the entire Yankelovich research and a very interesting statistic is that 79% of those surveyed said that “food companies should develop healthier foods that taste better.” We still have a real disconnect between intentions and behavior.

Relative to the eating in the car phenomenon, that I refer to as “dashboard dining,” I would prefer that food retailers dedicate their efforts to becoming the community champion of a healthy lifestyle that includes education, diet and exercise. I am not sure how many food retailers are capable of acting like restaurants. However, our time starved consumers are seeking “convenient healthy meal involvement” and a food retailer that responds to this need is capable of developing a distinctive point of difference.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 8 months ago

All great posts here. I’d add one thing, on self-reporting when it comes to eating habits. It’s not always reliable. I’ve heard this, but it struck home recently. My doctor had me keep a diary of what I actually ate for a week. It was seriously embarrassing passing it in, filled out honestly. I had thought I ate a lot healthier than I did.

Richard Wakeham
Guest
Richard Wakeham
14 years 8 months ago

Due to a life of self indulgence I was in my cardiologist’s office last week and noticed the following sign: “CARDIOLOGIST DIET: IF IT TASTES GOOD, SPIT IT OUT.”

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
14 years 8 months ago
Americans are fortunate, perhaps unfortunately, and have been stimulated to eat on the “rush” and consume what tastes good with a “hush.” We’re a nation that has come to rely on French fries and obese-producing food buys. Thus some food marketers have done an effective job of reducing our wallets while increasing our girth. Now many of those food marketers who created this phenomenon are getting painted with a scarlet letter – “B” for bad. For instance, today KFC is getting boiled in its own trans-fat oil. But even as KFC, McDonald’s and the other in-place mass feeders add more nutrition to their menus they will continue to dish up what bad-diet repeaters seem to seek: speed and tasty grease away from home. We would probably all eat better if we didn’t have so many choices in everything in our lives. If some of those choices should disappear, eating better foods would likely increase — and at family in-home meals. But should that not happen … the new dining table will likely be in the… Read more »
Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
14 years 8 months ago

The only trend out there is the same old one: “Give ’em what they want!” Wants have to change and that happens — look at smoking!

The biggest problem the operators have to worry about is which fad to chase. All the chains spend more time worrying about how to spin their menu than preparing food. I was happy to see KFC tell the trans fat worry warts to just go eat somewhere else.

The only chain I have seen (I am sure there are others) that did a good-for-you menu was DeLights, and they had to offer beer in fat food to get any men in the door. Restaurants will not change the habits of the American public and it’s a disservice to their ownership to expect them to be a change agent.

Race Cowgill
Guest
Race Cowgill
14 years 8 months ago

Let me add a critical bit of information from our firm’s food sciences and processing practice: the chemistry of high-calorie foods is what makes them delicious (high-calorie foods taste better — have a higher flavor-impact — because of how fats, sugars, and starches transport flavor to the tongue). Our study participants found: the more you eat high-calorie foods, the more bland other foods taste, the more you want high-calorie foods, and the more you eat them.

Participants acclimated to high flavor-impact foods did not want healthier, lower-calorie foods unless they went through an adjustment period of not having any high flavor-impact foods for at least a week. After that time, 100% of participants said that what they used to consider bland food now had much more appeal and taste.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
14 years 8 months ago
I think we have all lost perspective. And it is time to stop ‘feeding’ the real culprits. Food and its negative values is a function of how business entities can: 1) maximize profits; and 2) keep taste/flavor a priority, over nutrition; 3) secure repeat sales, whether out of home meals, or bringing pre-made products to heat and serve, at home. Remember, the last three Generations have seen little, if any, cooking at home, other than the microwave. Grandmas and moms were absent at meal preparation. So why do you think Whole Foods and Wild Oats have done so well? Or why do you think the Mediterranean diet isn’t promoted in schools? How about the TV commercial of the Russian grandma of 106 years of age, who eats Dannon yogurt, the real stuff of the early 80s? We are selling value meals of fat, and not fruit and cheese, for lunch and dinner. Salads are getting worse in nutrition, as well. So who is to blame? Each individual; daily demand of long work hours by the… Read more »
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