Consumers prioritize ‘healthful’ inclusions, place less importance on low/no/reduced claims

According to IFIC’s 16th​ annual Food & Health Survey​ released this week, consumers’ “definition of what a healthy food is has taken on a more positive tone in the last few years,”​ with more people defining healthy as containing certain healthful attributes and fewer defining it based on claims about what a product doesn’t contain or if it has low levels of negative nutrients, said Ali Webster, director of research and nutrition communication at IFIC.

“We found over a quarter of people ​[27%] define a healthy food as containing certain foods or certain healthful components, such as vegetables, fruits, protein, fiber, etc. And this is a higher number than said the same in 2016”​ when only 17% of respondents defined healthy based on positive attributes, Webster explained.

The most common definition of healthy given by the 1,014 Americans aged 18-80 years contacted for IFIC’s survey in late March was ‘good for you’ at 25%, followed by ‘includes vegetables’ at 10%, ‘includes fruit’ and ‘contains nutrients’ at about 7% and contains other certain components at about 6%.

A similar percentage of consumers – about a quarter – continued to define healthy as not containing or having low levels of undesirable nutrients, like sugar, fat, calories, carbohydrates and sodium, but this is a significant drop from 2016 when 35% of respondents defined healthy food in negative terms.

Other less common attributes that consumers applied to ‘healthy,’ which also dropped in the 2021 survey compared to 2016 are no artificial ingredients or additives, which was noted by about 6% of respondents, unprocessed or unadulterated (6%) and organic (4%).  Fresh, locally grown, non-GMO, simple or few ingredients and antibiotic- and hormone-free all also fell to less than 3% of respondents, according to the study.

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