American consumers talk a good game about healthy eating, according to an August 14 Nielsen report. But while they talk the talk, they don't walk the walk – at least partly because manufacturers and retailers of healthy foods make that walk a steep uphill climb.
Talking the talk
US consumers named health as one of their five top concerns for 2014. But, says Nielsen, "we literally want to have our cake and carrot juice—and eat them, too." So while 89 percent of consumers say that taking personal responsibility for your health is the best way to stay healthy – and 75 percent say they can manage health issues through proper nutrition – 91 percent (a figure which, for those who took Common Core math, includes both the 75 percent and the 89 percent) admit they snack on candy, ice cream and chips all the live-long day.
It gets worse.
While 64 percent say they'll do whatever it takes to control their own health and 70 percent say they're "actively trying to be healthier," both that and "whatever it takes" apparently exclude exercise and healthy eating. For half – 50 percent – eating healthy is a challenge, and 66 percent – just under two-thirds – say they don't exercise enough.
Accessories before the fact
If unhealthy eating were a crime, then food manufacturers and retailers would be guilty of aiding and abetting.
While organic or nutritionally enhanced foods are readily available in supermarkets, consumers just aren't buying. Or, as Nielsen more genteelly puts it, "[S]hoppers aren't buying healthier options even when they're available[;] half of U.S. consumers said the availability of organic or nutritionally-enhanced [sic] products at grocery had no or next-to-no [sic] impact on their grocery purchases in the last year."
That's because food prices were also among consumers' top five concerns, right up there with health.
More than half of consumers surveyed cited "'rising food prices' as a barrier to healthy eating," and 54 percent agree that "healthy foods are too expensive to eat regularly."
Manufacturers and retailers set their own pricing. And in an Obama economy which has seen the CRB US Spot Foodstuff Index rise 19 percent this year alone while household income fell by more than 10 percent since 2000, high healthy-food prices could be not just an excuse, but a real reason.
Manufacturers also control their food products' formulations, and too many health foods taste like...well, this is a family publication. "[T]aste also influences consumers' food shopping decisions," understates Nielsen, and "Half of consumers agreed that '…healthy food should taste good, and I am not willing to give up taste for health.'" As is the case for so-called green products, consumers aren't willing to pay more for an inferior brand just because it has a politically correct label.
"[A]dvertising and promotional campaigns emphasizing the personal responsibility angle of health and wellness could be highly effective" at bridging the gap between consumers' healthy aspirations and their unhealthy eating, Nielsen suggests.
Maybe. But their own research shows that awareness of that responsibility hasn't helped, despite the fact that 89 percent of American consumers already accept it.
Eating more overpriced, unpalatable, "healthy" foods may or may not make Americans' lives longer. But it'll certainly make it feel that way.