Prepared Foods November 28, 2005 e-newsletter

Recent findings from the 12th Annual Consumer Attitudes About Nutrition survey suggest that while nine out of 10 consumers remain concerned about the nutritional content of food, they are much less willing to pay for healthier versions of food.

This figure dropped a significant eight points over the last two years (from 72 to 64%) after a consistently flat period averaging 72% over the previous five years. The survey, sponsored by the United Soybean Board (USB), shows that although they are less willing to pay more for healthier foods, 74% of consumers still report having changed their eating habits due to nutritional or health concerns.

Consistent with the value placed on nutrition, 87% of consumers consider the nutrition facts label as important when deciding which foods to buy, yet 52% of respondents report that the nutrition label is too confusing. In a shift from last year, however, fewer consumers reported confusion, with this figure dropping four points from 56 to 52%.

While consumers are becoming savvier about nutrition labeling, more than one-half of consumers are still confused about the role fat plays in the diet:

- 88% of consumers correctly reported saturated fats as unhealthy, but many remain unaware that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are necessary for healthy bodily function.

- An increase in consumers surveyed (52%) correctly reported omega-3 fatty acids as a healthy part of their diet, up four points from last year.

- In comparing trans fatty acids to saturated fats, significantly fewer consumers incorrectly believe trans fatty acids are healthier than saturated fats (down 40 points to 33%), while 28% perceive that saturated fats are healthier.

- Due to its content of lower fat and no cholesterol, consumers (88%) continue to recognize soybean oil as one of the top two healthiest oils, second only to olive oil.

Despite the reported concern about nutrition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 30% of U.S. adults (over 60 million people) are obese, and the percentage of obese youth has tripled since 1980. To combat this epidemic, 60% of consumers agree that consuming soy-based foods can play a role in reducing obesity, while more than three-quarters (78%) of all surveyed agree soy products are healthy.

Some 33% of consumers are specifically aware that consuming 25g of soy protein per day significantly reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (up four points). Significantly more consumers (up five points) are aware that soy is a good source of protein (from 6% to 11%).

Of those who perceive soy as healthy, 26% seek out products that specifically contain soy. A new question to this year's survey reveals that one in five consumers would order soy products in restaurants if they were available, with veggie burgers the most popular item (33%), followed by tofu (26%) and soymilk (22%).

More than one quarter of Americans (27%) consume soy foods or beverages once a week or more. Consumers who use soy products once a month or more (16%) do so mainly at dinner (40%) followed by breakfast (27%) and lunch (23%). Breakfast consumption increased the most since 2004, up three points from 24 to 27.