Are UK consumers becoming more health-conscious?

By Anthony Fletcher

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Food Nutritional information Nutrition

Increasing consumer awareness in the UK over healthy eating
suggests that government messages are finally getting through.

The Food Standard Agency (FSA)'s seventh UK-wide Consumer Attitudes to Food survey, published yesterday, reports growing awareness of the '5-a-day' message and more people checking labels for nutritional information on a regular basis.

A total of 3,513 face-to-face interviews were conducted for the survey between August and October 2006.

"The 2006 survey highlights a number of diet and health trends that have emerged since 2000, including a significant yearly increase in the number of consumers who are aware that they should eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day," said the report.

"Almost an additional third of consumers are now aware that they should eat at least 5-a-day compared with 2000."

As in previous years, the amount of fat, salt and sugar in food continues to be key issues of concern for consumers.

Salt was mentioned by over half of respondents, while fat and sugar were each brought up by more than two fifths when prompted with a list of possible concerns.

The food industry has responded to these concerns.

Across Europe, food companies claim to be delivering on their commitments under the EU Platform on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, initiated by Commissioner Kyprianou nearly two years ago, through a revolution in product reformulation, education, labelling, research, physical education and also responsible advertising and marketing.

CIAA president Jean Martin said that 11 companies representing approximately €61 billion in annual sales in Europe, or roughly 7 per cent of all sales in our industry, reported that they had put more than 4,000 new product reformulations or innovations on the market over the past three years.

Martin said that these new or reformulated products represent on average nearly two-fifths of all the food and beverage products these companies sell to European consumers; and one in three companies say they have gone even further, reformulating at least half of their products in 2005 and 2006.

Another interesting survey finding – especially pertinent given the ongoing controversy over nutrition labelling - was that a growing number of consumers claim to be looking at nutritional information on food labels to check the fat and salt content when purchasing products for the first time. "

The number of people who say they are trying to eat more fruit and vegetables and checking their food labels for nutrition information shows a marked increase since the Agency first began these surveys in 2000," said Gill Fine, director of consumer choice and dietary health at the FSA.

"It's encouraging that year on year this survey of over 3,500 consumers shows a growing awareness about healthy eating messages."

The debate over nutritional labelling remains highly polarised however.

Some of the UK's biggest food manufacturers including Danone, Kellogg's, Kraft, Nestle and PepsiCo and retailers Tesco and Morrisons have joined together to promote GDA (guideline daily amount) labels , while the FSA's traffic light system is used by firms including Sainsbury's, Waitrose, the Co-Op, Marks and Spencer and Asda.

The FSA's consumer attitudes survey is conducted annually by to provide a better understanding of attitudes, knowledge, behaviour, and awareness among the public with regards to food standards and safety.

The first study, in 2000 (published January 2001) enabled benchmarks to be set, and each additional study thereafter allows the agency to track changes in behaviour and attitude, and measure trends.

TNS conducted 3,513 interviews among a demographically representative sample of the UK adult population.

Interviews were conducted face-to-face with respondents using CAPI (Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing) technology between August and October 2006.

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