Health Trend Here to Stay

Consumers in the U.S. might be trimming the fat from their budgets and diets, but contrary to predictions, they continue to demonstrate a healthy appetite for foods featuring health and wellness claims. From alpha (antioxidants) to omega (omega-3-fatty-acids), foods touting the kind of heart healthy, joint buffering, free radical extinguishing properties that appeal to aging Baby Boomers dominate the rapid growth list, said Tom Pirovano, director of industry insights for The Nielsen Co.

The big winners on the healthy eating front, each posting double digit growth, were products with label claims for omega, high-fructose corn syrup free, antioxidants, gluten-free, probiotic, calcium, fiber and low-glycemic and no-salt /sodium-added.

Many longstanding health claims maintained their popularity even as upstart health and wellness claims debuted on the healthy-eating scene. Chief among them: products with fat claims—generating 2009 sales of $46.1 billion—slid a modest 3% vs. 2008 results. This dip was attributable in large part to milk, which contributes $11.5 billion to all fat claim product sales. Even though milk unit sales remained relatively flat (-0.5%), lower prices dried up milk dollar sales, which ended the year down 16.7%, Nielsen-reported in its Healthy Eating Trends report.

Other popular claims holding their own included products labeled “natural,” with $22.8 billion in annual sales representing 4%-growth vs. 2008. The natural claim demonstrated real star power, outselling organics by more than a 4 to 1 margin in food, drug and mass merchandise retailers. Sodium claims—a $14.9 billion category dominated by soda products—kept its effervescence, recording no change in dollar sales over the last 12 months.

The “better-for-you” health movement to reduce saturated and trans fats resulted in a slender 1% uptick in products with an absence of a specific fat label claim—a $14.8 billion category, Pirovano said. Products with a preservative claim still resonated with shoppers, resulting in a 1% sales gain to $14.5 billion. And that perennial favorite claim of “reduced-calories” sold $11.7 billion in 2009, up 6% as consumers pursued the elusive goal of weight loss.

“Savvy marketers understand that being part of a healthy lifestyle solution reflects positively on almost any brand—or retailer. Retailers can further leverage and deepen their relationship with shoppers through programs ranging from Wii Fit exhibitions on site to light cooking demonstrations and product tastings,” Pirovano said. “With no shortage of news stories on child obesity, families will continue to seek out brands and retailers offering healthy alternatives.”

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