The 'Times & Trends' report, published last month, claims to help food manufacturers see opportunities for new product development and marketing initiatives by examining consumer attitudes with respect to healthy eating.
"The complexities of consumer eating behavior create significant challenges for marketers of healthier products to assess true market opportunity and to develop marketing messages that will resonate with the mass market," said the report.
"Health-focused product development and marketing strategies should be segmented by consumer approach to healthy eating- i.e. those with a plan compared to those who eat haphazardly-, presence of health conditions and age," it added.
Indeed, the report identified that out of the consumers following specific diets to manage health conditions, the large majority were trying to control their weight, while others were trying to manage conditions such as cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.
And, according to the report, "the proportion of consumers following a specific diet will grow over the next decade as 45 million 'younger boomers' turn 50."
An analysis of 17 major food and beverage categories, including dairy, snack and dessert products, found that consumers are increasingly opting for 'light' product alternatives. Sales of light products grew 2.5 percent in the past year, compared to 0.6 percent total category growth.
"Beverage, snack food and dessert manufacturers should explore additional product development opportunities offering low calorie benefits," said the report, adding that "portion control packages will continue to offer growth potential."
IRI also examined the ongoing attempts of the industry to reduce or eliminate trans fat levels in products, noting that "in the short term, lack of trans fats will be a differentiating factor in product selection. Longer term, it will cease to be a source of competitive advantage as more companies come on line with trans-fat-free products."
Similarly, manufacturers currently have a "window of opportunity" to increase sales through the addition of whole grains, on the back of increased demand the promotion of whole grains by last year's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. However, the authors note that this opportunity will not last, and the market will peak as focus dissipates.
The report also notes that natural and organic product sales continue to rise at double-digit rates, with high single-digit growth expected through 2010.
"The natural and organic product market offers continued strong growth potential for the next five years; however, pricing pressure will accelerate as more private label offerings are brought to market."