Bernstein report: Parents caught between a desire to eat healthy and product overload when grocery shopping

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

©GettyImages / Image Source
©GettyImages / Image Source

Related tags Food for kids

In pursuit of a healthy, balanced diet for themselves and their children, many parents reported being overwhelmed by the number of "healthy" choices at the grocery store, a focus group of Chicago parents revealed.

"Most of the parents we spoke to are overwhelmed by the choices in the grocery store and the lack of transparency on what is actually healthy,"​ said analysts from market and consumer research firm Bernstein​.

"As they have become parents, they are more aware of the food they are buying and are trying to eat healthier balanced meals while maintaining variety. But it's hard to know what is actually good for you these days as diet trends keep changing and the 'healthy' options in stores keep expanding. There is an opportunity here for food companies to educate their consumers."

Convenient, 'real food' at top of parents' wishlist

Bernstein analysts noted that walking the line between convenience and health is an effective way to reach parents who want to pick up healthy grocery items for their families but are also in a time crunch.

"While most parents do cook for their children, they do not want to spend hours in the kitchen. So they look for ways to cut down on cooking time, using frozen veggies or ready made salads,"​ added analysts. A priority on convenience also extends to packaging, and Bernstein consumer research revealed that convenient packaging, rather than sustainable packaging, drives more of parents' food purchases. 

"However, one parent noted that sustainability really matter to her children and they are constantly talking about it in school. So as that generation gets older and starts making purchasing decisions, sustainability could play a much larger role."

In terms of convenient food solutions, parents do seem to increasingly avoid frozen meals and canned products and the majority read food labels to avoid products with added sugar, dyes, sodium, corn syrup, and other additives. 

"There is a focus on eating 'real food',"​ said analysts. 

Parents are also open to trying new food brands for themselves and children, according to Bernstein, and are open to purchasing "challenger brands" as well as private label products, especially from Costco, as long as the quality is comparable to branded products. 

"However, there are certain categories where branded players still rule, like Heinz ketchup, Hershey chocolate and Smucker's Jelly."

Bernstein report: Parents speak about the ups and downs of grocery shopping

When asked how their experience is grocery shopping today compared to a few years ago, convenience, organic, and product overload were among the top observations made by parents (direct quotes from Bernstein's consumer focus group) :

  • "Well, it seems like just product overload. There are just tons of stuff in every single category, organic or inorganic or said to be healthy…It's kind of hard to weed out what you should and shouldn't buy."
  • "I have two boys that are athletes and they're travel sports players…they know that when they eat healthy they feel better and they perform better, so I think that has definitely been more of a focus within our household… if there are options that are organic we are going to buy it, especially with fruits and vegetable, meats, things like that…But I think the focus is more on filling things and things that are going to sustain them longer instead of things that are more high-sugar, high-carb type of stuff."
  • "I try to kind of cut corners a little bit with things that I prepare…where you don't have to do a lot to make something."
  • "We're very conscious of what we're eating. We do our best to eat very healthy, but neither of us likes to waste food and so we find that in shopping more frequently, and again, in smaller amounts that we're reducing the amount of waste."
  • "Sometimes grocery shopping is a little overwhelming, it's a lot of stuff…I try to find stuff that's convenient but also healthy, anything that's low in sugar. I try to buy fruits, veggies, cook them up, just have them ready. I don't necessarily cook every night, but I want stuff that's convenient and easy to make but also kind of healthy, try to balance everything out."
©GettyImages / Halfpoint

When asked what might improve their shopping experience, parents had this to say:

  • "Cheaper and healthier."
  • "Cheaper and healthier would be great, but I don't think that's possible. But my mom was born in England and in the UK there are a lot of food regulations about dyes, artificial ingredients and preservatives. Here it's a free-for-all, but they're the same brands. So it's clear that big food companies know how to make products without preservatives, but they don’t here which is frustrating."
  • "I want less choices of flavors, I don't need 20 flavors of something. If you just keep it at five, I'll find one that we like. Because there are so many of them it just makes it complicated. I don't even know how they're going to taste... I think also having organic stuff not always be so much more expensive."

Do these observations resonate with you as a parent to young kids? Let us know by participating in our FoodNavigator-USA's LIVE Consumer Parent Panel on the opening night of our FOOD FOR KIDS summit​ on the evening Nov. 18, 2019! Participants receive $50 for sharing their thoughts (2-hour time commitment) about what it's really like to grocery shop for their kids.

 If interested in the opportunity, please contact Mary Ellen Shoup directly at​ or 312.284.8582


Last year's consumer panel was a lot of fun. Check out what parents were talking about​ at the first FoodNavigator-USA FOOD FOR KIDS summit. 

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