The Natural Marketing Institute (NMI), which presented its latest findings at the IFT trade show in Orlando last month, identified a 'Well Being' sector of the population as the most health active.
According to the market researcher, 83 percent of Americans feel there is a connection between diet and health, which suggests that there is a definite "healthy consciousness" in the country.
But nutrition is not the only crucial factor consumers are looking for in food and beverage products. The nation's most health active segment, made up of a quarter of the population, is choosing brands based on corporate values, said NMI. Consumers in this category want to relate to the companies they buy from, and this often comes before price on their list of priorities.
The slightly smaller 'Food Actives' segment is the second major category driving growth in the health and wellness market. These consumers focus on a balance between nutrition and exercise, and are often following doctors' recommendations when it comes to the types of foods they choose to eat.
Other segments identified by NMI include the 'Magic Bullets', who are looking for a magic pill that will do it all. "They do want health, they just want it easy," said NMI's president Maryellen Molyneaux.
'Fence Sitters' are consumers know what they need for a healthy lifestyle, but "don't always get round to it" , while the largest segment of US consumers- just over a quarter- are classified as the least health active 'Eat, Drink and be Merrys'.
According to Molyneaux, the healthy foods market in the US is currently valued at $79bn. And when it comes to conditions that consumers are most concerned about preventing, heart disease comes top of the list for around three quarters of Americans, followed by vision problems and lack of energy. Obesity, arthritis and high cholesterol follow close behind.
Some of the major trends identified by NMI in the health and wellness segment include immunity and omega-3 - "excellent mass market opportunities" - which show "no signs of slowing down".
Molyneaux also stressed the importance of dietary balance, revealing that an equal number of consumers- almost seven out of ten- have avoided some foods and added other foods to their diets in order to eat healthier.
The main things avoided by consumers include trans fats and carbohydrates, while heart healthy foods and high fiber foods are most likely to be added to a diet for the sake of health. Consumers are also careful about foods that keep blood sugar stable, said Molyneaux.
And when it comes to parents monitoring the diets of their children, the top concern remains sugar, with over half of parents trying to limit their child's intake of sugar. This is also connected to the fact that dental cavities is the primary worry of around half of American parents, compared to a quarter of parents who are mainly concerned about diabetes. And some 20 percent of parents are concerned about obesity. According to NMI, there are "new emerging markets for kids in weight, energy, mood, concentration and glycemic index."
Parents are also keeping a close eye on the salt content of foods, as well as the artificial colors, preservatives and flavors in products.
Molyneaux also touched upon organic foods in her presentation last month, revealing that almost 60 percent of consumers have used organic products over the past year, primarily chosen as a 'better-for-me' option and to avoid chemicals, hormones and antibiotics.
The overall organic market is currently valued at about $13bn, and is forecast to reach $20bn by 2009.
NMI separated organic consumers into three main categories: 'Devoteds', made up of almost 28 million adults with 35 percent spending power, who are committed organic buyers, having integrated the products into their lifestyle, with high usage and spending rates; 'Temperates', made up of 54 million adults who account for 38 percent of spending. These consumers are described as pragmatists, with moderate organic attitudes, fitting organic products into their existing lifestyle; and 'Dabblers'- around 42 percent of consumers who account for 27 percent of spending and who are described as "non-committal", "disproportionately male" and "more about hipness than health".
"Wal-Mart thinks the 'Temperates' are the opportunity, but in my opinion this category is not buying enough. The 'Devoteds' are the ones buying more, and this is where I see the opportunity," said Molyneaux.
Molyneaux was speaking as part of a "Trending Toward Tomorrow" presentation at the IFT. The event included talks by AC Nielsen's Robert Gannon, who presented a global overview of growth markets, and NPD's Harry Balzer, who discussed eating patterns in America.