Prepared Foods Exclusive: Shifts in Consumer Expectations for Health Products

Beth Surowiec, Executive Director, Clear Seas Research

For the third consecutive year, Prepared Foods was a partner with Clear Seas Research to uncover what industry professionals believe are the current trends for consumers and the areas of highest interest surrounding consumer food choices. Survey participants included 405 food industry professionals, all of them in senior-level positions with decision-making authority.  

These individuals will be involved with developing numerous new products, of which only 64% are expected to be “successfully released.”  With the average estimated cost of bringing a new product to market at $214,351, manufacturers must be able to maximize their potential for achieving a successful product launch.  The insights from this research may be useful in developing and marketing future new products and menu choices for consumers and, perhaps more importantly, may provide information that will enable food and beverage manufacturers to maximize the number of new products that make it through the development process and to a successful release in 2010.

Shift in Perceptions Surrounding Healthy Options
As in previous years, current consumer trends remain focused on natural, healthy and convenient foods.  This is not surprising given the busy lifestyles of consumers today: the need to slow the rate of obesity, and the desire for a healthy, well-balanced life. According to industry professionals surveyed, consumers have a high degree of interest in products positioned as low-calorie, indulgent, whole-grain-rich and low-fat.  Additionally, compared to previous years, significantly more professionals believe consumers are trending toward, or highly interested in, products claiming to be high in fiber; low in sugar, salt, calories or glycemic index; and free of gluten.  Interestingly, relative to the past two years, professionals believe consumers are less interested in convenience, portion control and vitamin/mineral fortification.


Have consumers changed their focus?  Are consumers redefining what it means to be “healthy”? What product categories may be impacted the most by this perceived shift in perceptions?

Impact on Specific Food Categories
Among respondents in the prepared food category, 2010 will see them focus primarily on new prepared dinners, meals and/or entrées, versus side dishes, desserts and sauces, for example.  Respondents competing in this category believe consumers are most interested in convenient, healthy and natural positionings. As in prior years, those surveyed believe whole-grain, ethnic and low-fat options to be of greatest interest to consumers when selecting prepared foods.  Also, for 2010, surveyed industry professionals believe consumers are less interested in organic and country of origin labeling, while they are placing greater interest than ever in low-salt and low-glycemic options.

A continued focus on developing water, juice and sports energy drinks is in store for the beverage segment. Those surveyed believe consumers are most interested in natural beverages perceived as healthy. Interest in energy-boosting, low-calorie options also carried over from previous years; however, in this category as well, perceived consumer interest in fortified beverages declined, for the second year running.

For the snack food and candy segment, snacks and chocolate products remain the primary focus for new product development, according to industry professionals.  Compared with the previous two years, a significantly greater percentage of this group indicates they will be developing new candy and gum products.  These new products likely will be developed keeping the perceived consumer interests in healthy, convenient and natural products in mind.  Additionally, and similar to the other categories mentioned here, the respondents believe consumers are more interested in products low in sugar, calories and salt this year, while there is less perceived interest in portion control, ethnic, whole grain and spicy/hot snack foods compared to one year ago.

Approach to Product Marketing
Once a product is developed, the launch can determine its success.  The most common marketing approach revolves around product sampling, followed by online or electronic media messages.  Retail promotions, point-of-purchase displays and trade magazines are also frequently used when introducing a new product.  Industry professionals report an increased focus on online/electronic media and trade magazine advertising, compared to previous years, when promoting new products.  As these areas have increased in use, point-of-purchase in-store displays and coupon usage has declined in the past year.

Regardless of the medium used to introduce a new product, the message that is received by the consumer is instrumental in the product’s success.  Generally speaking, marketing communications need to appeal to the consumer’s interest in natural, healthy and convenient food options.  More specific messaging by food category may benefit the launch of new products by resonating with consumers and increasing consumption.  Prepared foods may benefit by better communicating whole grain content, lack of fat and salt, or its low-glycemic aspect, as these are important elements for consumers.  

In beverages, messaging focused on increased energy and low calorie content may generate greater appeal, while consumer interest suggests strongly promoting snacking options that are low in calories, sugar and salt.   

For more information on this research study or to understand how market research can help your organization successfully launch new products, please contact Beth Surowiec at

Other Web Resources
Beverages to Feature Calorie Info Prominently
Prepared Foods Exclusive: Gradual Changes in Food & Beverages
NYC Wants Sodium Reduction
Consumers Sticking with Organics
On-trend Flavors for Todayís Consumers
FDA on Energy Drinks

From the March 1, 2010, Prepared Foods E-dition