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Survey Polls Consumers Perceptions of Processed Foods

1 year, 1 month ago

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Posted on Oct 26, 2021, 4 p.m.

Results of this survey show that American consumers are fairly ambivalent when it comes to processing.

  • The majority of Americans buy processed foods and beverages sometimes or often.
  • Half of Americans have not changed the amount of processed foods they’ve purchased over the past three months.
  • Many say that they are more likely to buy a processed food or beverage if it is high in protein, enriched or fortified with vitamins and minerals and has natural flavors/colors.
  • Consumers are fairly split on their level of concern about processing for different types of foods/beverages.
  • When looking at purchase drivers, taste, price and healthfulness greatly outrank whether a food or beverage is processed.

A new survey called “Perceptions on Processed: Consumer Sentiment and Purchasing Habits” conducted by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) broke down some of the feelings and perceptions that consumers in the U.S. have about where processed foods fit into their overall dietary patterns, showing surprising results of relatively mixed feelings about food processing depending on other factors.

Processed foods and beverages are found in nearly every section of the grocery store and are often part of our daily meals, snacks, and desserts. But how does processing affect what Americans are buying and eating? This survey aimed to find out what Americans’ perceptions and purchasing behaviors are around processed foods and beverages. The results are sourced from a population of 1,002 adults weighted to represent the U.S. population.

77% of Americans buy processed foods and beverages sometimes or often. Nearly one-third (32%) said that they do so very often. Age seems to play a role in the overall likelihood of purchasing processed foods, as those under the age of 45 are twice as likely (41%) to purchase processed foods very often compared to older adults(16%).

 48% of those surveyed say that they take into consideration whether a food is processed or not before purchasing it, with 19% of those consumers more likely to purchase a product if it is processed compared to 29% of those who say they are less likely to purchase a product if it’s processed. 28% of those who consider whether a food is processed say that it depends on the food, while 23% of consumers say that processing is not a consideration in their purchasing pattern. Men earning over $80,000 and those under 45 years old are most likely to purchase a processed product compared to their counterparts. 

Those who at least sometimes consider whether foods or beverages are processed tend to turn to ingredient lists, the type of food, front-of-package labels, and the Nutrition Facts label to inform their purchasing.  According to the survey respondents, nutritional factors reported to make processed foods more appealing include enrichment with vitamins and minerals, natural flavors and colors, high fiber content, and low fat.

Just over half (51%) of consumers said that the amount of processed foods and beverages they’ve purchased over the past three months hasn’t changed. 19% say that they’re purchasing more processed foods than normal, while 22% report that they are purchasing less. Men, those earning over $80,000, those under the age of 45 and those with college degrees were more likely to increase their purchasing of processed products compared to counterparts. While those earning less than $40,000 and those above the aged 45 years and older were more likely to say that the amount of processed foods they buy hasn’t changed.

The survey also broke down the top concerns that Americans have with processed foods, including concerns about health and environmental attributes, which specific foods and beverages cause the most concern, taste, and price.

When asked what holds sway in the purchase of processed foods between health and environmental attribute of processed food/beverages, 55% of consumers said that they are more likely to purchase a processed product if it is high in protein, and environmentally friendly products fell further down with 2 in 5 reporting they were more likely to purchase a processed food/beverage with this attribute. Those under the age of 45, men and those earning over $80,000 annually appear to be more likely to purchase environmentally friendly, organic, and plant-based processed foods and beverages than their counterparts.

Based on this survey the most frequently purchased foods/beverages are dairy, grains, and 100% fruit juices, with dairy being the top product that consumers report always purchasing when going to the grocery, followed by 30% reporting grains, and 27% reporting purchasing 100% fruit and vegetable juices. Those under the age of 45 earning over $80,000 were more likely to report always buying granola/protein/nutritional/snack bars, plant-based alternatives, and seltzer/carbonated water compared to those over the age of 45 earning under $40,000. 

Concern over processed foods appeared fairly consistent in this survey, across different types of foods and beverages, with the participants reporting slightly elevated levels of concern about processing in meat or poultry (24%), sugar-sweetened beverages (24%), frozen meals (24%), and similar percentages reported not being concerned at all about the processing in these foods. 

When asked to rank purchase drivers while shopping even when processed or not for food/beverages, item taste, price and healthfulness out ranked factors like brand name, convenience and whether the item was processed or not. But being processed appears to be slightly more of a driver when purchasing beverages.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.

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