A. Elizabeth Sloan

The widespread misconception that consumers have lost interest in macronutrients including fat, carbohydrates, calories, and cholesterol is causing many food marketers to overlook some of the fastest-growing opportunities in the healthy foods sector.

The Nielsen Co. reports that sales of foods/drinks with a low-fat/reduced-fat claim reached $46 billion in 2009, and sales of reduced-calorie products totaled $11.7 billion. In 2010, 25% of the best-selling new foods/drinks carried a low-calorie claim, and the same percentage made a lower-fat/fat-free claim, according to SymphonyIRI’s 2011 New Product Pacesetters report.

Saturated fat content is a key consumer concern. Asked about what they seek out on the nutrition facts label, 59% of those polled in the Food Marketing Institute’s U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends 2011 survey said saturated fat was a very important consideration, up 4% over 2010. In addition, 58% consider trans fat content to be very important, up 3% over 2010.

With the U.S. Dietary Guidelines calling for replacement of saturated fat with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, expect interest in these less familiar forms of fat to soar. The Dietary Guidelines also advocate consumption of liquid vs solid forms of fat, and consumers seem to understand this concept; according to the FMI survey, hydrogenated oils are among the ingredients that consumers frequently check for on the label.

The Hartman Group reports that 40% of consumers ages 18–33 were very concerned about their cholesterol level in 2010, and 65% of Gen Xers and 67% of Baby Boomers had similar concerns. “Lowers cholesterol” is tied with “weight loss” as the most desired functional food benefit, according to Mintel research data.

With 23% of teens having cholesterol levels over 200 mg/dL and pediatricians conducting lipid profiles on children as young as 2 years of age, expect a proliferation of low-fat kids’ products to be a marketplace reality. One-third of moms are making a strong effort to limit their children’s intake of cholesterol, 24% limit trans fats, and 22% total fat, according to the 2010 Gallup Study of Children’s Eating Behaviors.

In 2011, calories ranked fifth in terms of food label information consumers considered very important, according to FMI; 40% of shoppers polled for FMI’s 2010 study regularly sought out low-calorie products.

In 2010, 39% of adults tried to manage their weight, according to Packaged Facts’ Weight Management Trends in the U.S. 2010 report. One in five adults counts calories; this includes 48% of dieters and 23% of those trying to maintain weight. The percentage of moms in Gallup’s 2010 survey who say they are making a strong effort to cut calories in their kids’ diet is nearly the same as those trying to increase their calorie level (14% vs 17%).

The advent of nutrition labeling in restaurants has also spurred interest in calories. According to foodservice research company Technomic Inc., 61% of diners chose lower-calorie menu items after seeing posted nutritional values.

In 2010, 41% of grocery shoppers sought out low-sugar foods/beverages, and 27% looked for low-carb products, according to FMI. Those making a strong effort to limit carbs stayed relatively steady—23% of adults in 2007 vs 21% in 2010, but declined among dieters (39% vs 33%), according to the 2010 Gallup Study of Weight Management. One in five consumers believes calories from carbs cause weight gain, according to the 2010 Food & Health survey from the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

Protein has a healthy halo. More than half of Gen Yers, 64% of Gen Xers, and 65% of Baby Boomers tried to increase their protein intake in 2010, according to the Hartman Group. Just over one-third (37%) looked for high protein on the nutrition label in 2010, IFIC reports.

Eating a lot of protein is the fifth most important component of healthy eating for adults, right after vegetables, fruit, less processed foods, and less saturated fat, according to a 2009 Mintel report titled Attitudes Towards Food: Weight and Diet—U.S.

Consumers link protein to a wide variety of health benefits: 68% believe protein builds muscle, 40% think it helps you feel full, 37% say it aids weight loss, and 35% find it beneficial as people age, according to IFIC.

A Gallup study found that among current dieters, those making a strong effort to increase their protein intake rose from 50% in 2007 to 55% in 2010. And about one-third of moms surveyed by Gallup in 2010 say they made a strong effort to increase protein in their children’s diet.


A. Elizabeth Sloan,
Contributing Editor
President, Sloan Trends Inc., Escondido, Calif.
[email protected]