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CONSUMER ATTITUDES ABOUT NUTRITION
USB's nationwide survey provides insights into consumer attitudes and perceptions about nutrition, health and soyfoods. Conducted since 1993, we publish an annual report of survey results each summer. A sampling of survey topics include:
- Nutrition attitudes and their effect on purchasing decisions
- Consumer awareness of health benefits regarding soy products
- Attitudes about different types of fats and oils
- Consumer perceptions of biotechnology
In 2012, USB found that concerns about nutrition remain high (90 percent express concern about the nutritional content of the food they eat) and the vast majority continue to perceive soy as healthy. Consumers most frequently mention the following specific health benefits of soy: source of protein (19 percent), low in fat (19 percent) and heart-healthy (14 percent).View the full results from the 2012 survey below.
This 19th annual nationwide survey provides vital information on consumer attitudes and perceptions about health and nutrition issues. Sponsored by the United Soybean Board (USB), this report takes an in-depth look at:
- Nutrition attitudes and their effect on purchasing decisions
- Nutritional habits and obesity concerns
- Consumer awareness of the health benefits of soy products
- Attitudes about different types of fat and oils
- Restaurant and home consumption of soy
- Consumer perceptions of biotechnology and sustainability
Methodology The United Soybean Board conducted the first Consumer Attitudes about Nutrition study in 1994. Over the years, this annual survey has become more detailed to address current topics of interest to the food industry as well as health professionals. As such, we have provided multiple years of trending data, where available.
This year represents the seventh year we have adopted an online self-administered survey as our methodology, a significant change from telephone interviews conducted in previous years. The study, conducted by an independent research firm in January 2012, includes 1,000 random surveys, providing a sample that is consistent with the total U.S. population. The study's margin of error remains +/- 1.9-3.1 percent, with a confidence interval of 95 percent.
Results are generally quite comparable between methodologies. However, when presented with comparisons between 2006 to 2012 data and previous years, we recommend that the reader view the data for general trending purposes rather than for specific market shifts.
About USB The United Soybean Board serves as a resource for soybean-related educational materials. Please visit SoyConnection.com to view soybean oil innovation news (including information about biotechnology), up-to-date health research, recipes and two Soy Connection newsletters for the food industry and for health professionals.COLLAPSE
Consumers Aim to Choose Healthier Foods Americans overwhelmingly say they are trying to choose foods that maximize nutrition and health. In 2012, 90 percent express concern about the nutritional content of the food they eat, a number that has remained consistent over the last decade. Seven out of ten consumers say they have changed their eating habits in the past three to five years due to health concerns, fairly consistent with previous years.
Most consumers (93 percent) find health and nutrition information important when searching for healthy foods. Although under half (44 percent) of U.S. consumers feel information about health and nutrition is too confusing, 93 percent review the Nutrition Facts panel when deciding which foods to purchase. The number of confused consumers has decreased slightly and the number of consumers using the Nutrition Facts panel has increased slightly.
Consumers Examine the Good & Bad of Nutrition Facts Consumers who consider the Nutrition Facts panel to be important most often mention total calories as their top concern (15 percent, on an unaided basis), a slight decrease from last year. Consumers continue to show concern with sodium content (11 percent) as well as ingredients/preservatives (9 percent). Calories remain the top concern since 2007. Other items noticed most often on the Nutrition Facts panel were: total fat, sugar, carbohydrate and dietary fiber at 8 percent each. The importance of trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label increased three points to 7 percent.
Should interest in dietary fiber gain enough momentum to become a trend, this change in consumer focus could represent a future opportunity for the food industry relative to soy products with high fiber content.
Who is to Blame for Obesity? Respondents consider individual responsibility and poor diet to be the top two causes of obesity (74 and 57 percent, respectively) on an unaided basis.COLLAPSE
Soyfoods Receive Healthy Rating In 2012, eight in ten consumers (80 percent) rate soy products as healthy on an aided basis, with very few rating them as unhealthy (only 6 percent). This number reflects an increase of 13 percentage points in the perceived healthiness of soy products over the last 15 years.
Health Reasons for Seeking Soy Forty-seven percent of consumers seek out products specifically because they contain soy, and approximately 31 percent are aware of specific health benefits of soy in their diet. On an unaided basis, consumers most frequently mention the following specific health benefits of soy: source of protein (19 percent), low in fat (19 percent), heart healthy (14 percent), it's good for you (14 percent, up significantly from 8 percent in 2011), good for women (10 percent) and cholesterol-lowering (9 percent).
On an aided basis, consumers are most aware of the health benefits of soy in relation to weight management (34 percent), reduced risk of heart disease (33 percent) and reduced risk of some cancers (25 percent).
FDA-Approved Heart Health Claim Slightly over one-third of consumers aware of the health benefits of soy indicate they are also aware of the FDA-approved health claim, which states that consuming 25 grams of soy protein per day may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. Once the statement is provided to them, 53 percent agree with the health claim, a number that increased 9 points since 2011.COLLAPSE
Positive Perception of Soybean Oil Sixty percent of Americans are aware of soybean oil as a cooking oil and 96 percent are aware of vegetable oil (usually made from soybean oil) on an aided basis. As in past years, vegetable oil is second only to olive oil in terms of the cooking oil consumers report that they use most frequently (68 percent).
When given the information that most cooking oil labeled "vegetable oil" is actually 100% soybean oil, almost half of consumers say vegetable oil is healthier than they thought. If vegetable oil was re-labeled to say 100% soybean oil, about one-third of consumers say they would be more likely to buy it.
Among consumers with an opinion on healthiness, 80 percent think soybean oil is very or somewhat healthy. Consumers continue to rate soybean oil as the third most "very healthy" oil, behind olive and flaxseed oils. This suggests product development opportunities, as consumers continue the trend of at-home eating and entertaining in 2012.
Consumers Recognize "Good" Fats in Overall Health Many consumers distinguish between the health effects of different types of fat. Nearly half (49 percent, down from 53 percent in 2011) believe the most effective strategy for improving overall health is to follow a moderate fat diet, which chooses "good" fats over "bad" fats, rather than to adopt an overall low-fat diet by reducing all fat intake (10 percent).
How Do Fats Rate? Despite an interest in choosing "good" fats over "bad" fats, most U.S. consumers have a hard time pinpointing the healthier choices. Only 32 percent of Americans recognize polyunsaturated fats as healthy, and 29 percent recognize monounsaturated fats accordingly. Omega-3 fatty acids remain the only type of fat that consumers rate more healthy than unhealthy. In 2012, 84 percent of Americans consider omega-3 fatty acids very or somewhat healthy (up from 2011 at 79 percent, and up from 2007 at 9 percent). While fish oil is the preferred source of omega-3s due to bioavailability, soybean oil is the principal source of omega-3s in the American diet.
Confusion Continues Between Saturated and Trans Fats In a direct comparison between harmful types of fats, consumers continue to say that saturated fat is healthier than trans fat (20 percent vs. 15 percent, respectively in 2012). This has been the trend since 2006 (the year local municipalities such as New York City began to enact restrictions on trans fat), before which trans fat was considered by consumers to be the healthier of the two choices.
Not surprisingly, saturated fat enjoyed its highest levels of perceived healthiness as compared to trans fat in 2007 (42 percent vs. 16 percent), but the gulf in perception has since narrowed significantly in the last five years. In fact, now over one-third of consumers consider these fats to be nutritionally about equal. These results suggest a need for food companies to develop products low in both trans and saturated fats.
Yet, even if consumers are starting to recognize the unhealthiness of both trans and saturated fats, fewer consumers recall recent media coverage of saturated fats as compared to trans fat. Among those who do, they recall that it's the "worst kind" of fat (which is also what consumers recall most about trans fat).
Trans Fats Awareness and Opinion Sixty-eight percent of Americans view trans fat as very unhealthy, a slight decrease from 2011, at 70 percent. Looking at the long-term trend, this continues to represent a dramatic increase from 2000, when only 28 percent viewed trans fat as very unhealthy.
Nearly one-half of all consumers (47 percent) are aware of media coverage surrounding trans fat, a slight decrease from 2011, at 49 percent, and from the height of coverage in 2007 (65 percent).
When asked which specific news stories consumers remember about trans fat, they primarily recall a generic "they are unhealthy/worst kind of fat" message. This number jumped from 35 percent in 2011 to 46 percent in 2012. During the past five years, consumers chiefly cited stories about obesity and weight concerns, yet only 2 percent did so in 2012, on par with 2 percent in 2011 and a significant decrease from 43 percent in 2010. The second most common response was "don't know" at 11 percent and increased risk of coronary/heart disease at 8 percent.
The percentage of Americans who say they are very unlikely to purchase foods with trans fat listed on the Nutrition Facts panel decreased slightly to 38 percent in 2012 (down from 41 percent in 2011 and 2010). Of those consumers who pay attention to trans fat on the Nutritional Facts panel, 42 percent do so because they consider trans fat to be "bad for you." This is a significant decrease from last year when 80 percent gave the same reason.COLLAPSE
More Consumers Eat & Drink Soy Thirty-nine percent of Americans consume soyfoods or soy beverages once a month or more, approximately seven percentage points higher than during the period between 2006 and 2009. Conversely, 28 percent indicate that they never consume soy, which has decreased steadily since 2006 (then at 43 percent). For the ninth year in a row, consumers report highest awareness of soymilk and tofu, followed by soybean oil, soybeans and soy veggie burgers.
Soymilk continues to be the most regularly consumed soy product, with just over one-fifth of Americans reporting that they drink it regularly. For comparison, in 1999, 18 percent of consumers reported that they had tried soymilk. By 2011, the number of consumers who have tried soymilk has more than doubled to 48 percent of all consumers.
Edamame holds the number two spot ahead of veggie burgers among the top three most consumed soyfoods for the past three years. Soy veggie burgers and plain white tofu follow in third and fourth place.
Occasion Preferences for Consuming Soy Dinner remains the most popular meal time for consuming soy products (38 percent). Other respondents cite their favorite occasion for eating soy as breakfast (33 percent), lunch (21 percent), mid-afternoon snacking (17 percent), late evening snacking (11 percent), mid-morning snacking (10 percent) and desserts (5 percent). Both breakfast and desserts have seen a slight increase over 2011 data.
Consumers Seek Soy at Restaurants Among Americans who order soy in restaurants, soymilk is the most common choice at 32 percent (up significantly from 2011, then at 20 percent). After soymilk, soy veggie burgers (25 percent), tofu (19 percent) and edamame (12 percent) are most popular.
About one-third of consumers who consume soy products at home but rarely order them in restaurants note, as in past years, it's because soy products are not available on the menu. This continues to represent a menu development opportunity for restaurants.COLLAPSE
Nutrition as a Benefit of Biotechnology Forty-three percent of consumers are familiar with the term biotechnology and half of those familiar with biotechnology view its role in food production very to somewhat positively. These positive perceptions have increased from 12 percent in 2011 to 17 percent in 2012.
Over one-quarter of these consumers indicate they are aware of the health and nutrition benefits that result from biotechnology, up slightly from 2011. Use of fewer pesticides/herbicides takes the top spot in 2012 as the most common benefit identified by consumers. Increased nutritional value, larger crop yields and more vitamins/minerals in foods continue to be identified as the top benefits.
Sustainability is Important Of those consumers who are familiar with the term biotechnology, nearly eight in ten say it is important that the food they eat is produced using sustainable methods.
However, among those concerned, twenty percent say they don't do anything specific to address their concerns. Among those who take action of some sort, reading labels (21 percent), buying local (14 percent) and buying organic (13 percent) are mentioned most often. This consumer focus could represent a future opportunity for the food industry to recommend specific actions consumers can take at the grocery store or at home to make sustainable food choices and support sustainable agriculture.COLLAPSE