Shoppers Unsure What Foods Are “Healthy”

Confusing information makes it difficult for consumers to decide.

January 28, 2019

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – What grocery store foods are truly healthy? Many consumers aren’t sure, according to a recent survey by the American Heart Association and the International Food Information Council Foundation.

The survey found that 95% of shoppers seek healthy options—at least some of the time—when grocery shopping. However, only a little over a quarter find it easy to determine which products are best for them, reports NPR.

"There is a lot of competing information out in the food landscape," says Alexandra Lewin-Zwerdling, vice president of research and partnerships at the International Food Information Council, noting that oceans of information are available from supermarkets, fitness gurus, nutrition bloggers, scientific studies and social media. "This kind of sea of information causes conflict and doubt."

A survey last year found that 59% of respondents were somewhat or strongly confused by conflicting health advice, and marketing claims add to the confusion. The more recent survey found that once inside the grocery store, shoppers look at labels, the Nutrition Facts panel and the ingredients list to determine whether a product is healthy. Some turn to environmentally minded and socially conscious claims, such as “grass-fed” and “fair trade.”

Charlotte Vallaeys, senior policy analyst for Consumer Reports, has seen health-conscious customers stumble over confusing branding and conflicting research. While some products are certified organic by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, others are simply marketed with a label that says "natural."

“There’s no question that various trends and health claims can complicate purchasing decisions at the grocery store,” said Jeff Lenard, vice president, strategic industry initiatives at NACS. “And for convenience stores—in which the shopping experience and purchasing decisions are dramatically faster—it can get even more complicated.”

He noted that NACS works with several nutrition-focused groups to help simplify this often complex process, from simplifying signage and store sets (refer to these case studies) to examining which products fit criteria related to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.