Consumer trend focus

AC Nielsen examines global purchasing differences

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

Consumers around the world all agree that health is their major
concern, but purchase behavior varies widely in different
countries, according to a global, top-line survey conducted in
around 40 markets.

The findings, based on an internet survey of 21,000 international respondents, were presented by market researcher AC Nielsen at the recent IFT show in Orlando.

The survey, which focused on gathering statistics on consumer behavior in different global markets, forms the basis for further research that will examine the reasons behind these differences, said AC Nielsen's Bob Gannon, who presented the findings.

Yet even from an initial examination, the findings reveal that the number one or number two concern through most countries is health, with China, Russia and Canada demonstrating the most concern.

But when it comes to regulating health through food choices, behavior varies widely across countries, said AC Nielsen.

Consumers in the Americas reported being most concerned about fat and calorie content of products, while Chinese and Indian consumers pay more attention to preservatives and additives.

Mexicans, Canadians and citizens of the US are most likely to check food and beverage labels for fat content; Brazilians, Mexicans and Indians regularly check for calories; and Mexicans, Brazilians and US citizens are the most likely to check a product's sugar content. Consumers least interested in these categories are Chinese, Russian and Polish.

However, when it comes to preservatives and additives, the Chinese shoot to the top of the list of concerned consumers, followed by Mexicans, Indians and South Africans. Consumers in the US, Canada, Poland and Russia are least likely to check for these on labels.

According to Gannon, this is most likely because of the different emphasis being placed by governments and media on issues such as obesity.

The survey, which was conducted in the second half of last year, also examined the types of products people chose based on their functional health benefits.

In general, the most popular 'functional' food was revealed to be whole grain or high fiber products. This finding is also in line with recent results from an NMI survey, which revealed that Americans are most aware of the lack of fiber from their diets.

Eight of the twelve countries focused on by Gannon for his recent presentation were found to purchase whole grain, high-fiber products more regularly than the global average, including the US, Canada and Mexico.

Globally, consumers cited bad taste and a disbelief in health benefits as the most frequent reasons for not purchasing these products.

Other functional foods that scored high on the global list include cholesterol reducing oils and margarines, iodine enhanced cooking salt and vitamin enhanced fruit juices.

Four products that would 'never' be purchased by over one third of shoppers globally include soymilk, vitamin enhanced milk, bread with added supplements and cereal with added folate.

And 10 percent of consumers globally said they had never heard of fermented drinks containing 'good' bacteria, iodine enhanced cooking salt and cereal with added folate.

"Consumers across markets are largely aware of functional foods with added 'health' benefits, though their purchasing of these is influenced by several conditions including awareness, taste, believe-ability, price and availability,"​ said AC Nielsen.

"Each of these are manageable challenges that can be overcome by the joint efforts of product development and marketing alongside the education of the consumer,"​ it added.

AC Nielsen prepared the top-line survey as a starting point for further research, which it will be conducting for clients such as Kraft, Nestlé, Coca-Cola and Unilever. Towards the second half of this year it is due to publish a more detailed analysis for some of the reasons behind the statistics it has gathered.

"We will be digging down deeper into some of the real differences in behavior and attitudes, especially in the fastest growing emerging economies, such as China, India and Russia,"​ Gannon told

However, the market researcher did caution that the information revealed by its latest survey was based on an internet survey, and may therefore not be representative of the countries as a whole.

Gannon was speaking as part of a "Trending Toward Tomorrow" presentation at the IFT. The event included talks by NMI's Maryellen Molyneaux, who spoke about the growth of the healthy foods market, and NPD's Harry Balzer, who discussed eating patterns in America.

For's coverage of Maryellen Molyneaux's presentation, click here​, and for coverage of Harry Balzer's presentation click here​.

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