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Study: Consumers' Health Interest Still Growing

The first paragraph of a Supermarket News feature this week could have been written at just about any time over the past couple of decades:

A strong interest among consumers in buying and eating healthy foods offers significant opportunities for the food industry to create new products to meet that demand, according to a new study--

Still, interest in healthy foods is still growing. And given that the food industry is driven almost entirely by introducing new or "improved" products, health is perhaps the most potentially lucrative consumer trend to exploit.

The study, released during the Healthy Foods International Exposition and Conference in Dallas, recommended, in the words of Supermarket News' Elliot Zwiebach, that " the industry market such products as a way for consumers to manage their health conditions; offer more private-label and prepared-food solutions in the healthy foods category; and make more locally grown and natural products available at the supermarket."

All to the good -- except, perhaps, for that first suggestion, which seems to glom on to the "food-as-medicine" trend that for the most part doesn't do anyone any good (potato chips with St. John's Wort, anyone?).

Consumers remain interested in healthy foods despite price increases in the category, the study found. Depending on how resilient consumers are to inflation, that could mean a big payoff for marketers who approach the category wisely.

Among consumers, there is "both an acceptance of actual inflation in organic food prices and a deepening desire to find alternatives to conventionally produced goods," according to the study.

Consumers put healthy eating at the top of a list of 16 "lifestyle decisions." That's ahead of exercise and taking vitamins.

The study also shows that consumers may be getting smarter about what makes for a "healthy" food â€" they're not looking for potato chips to cure their depression. They want more whole grains and less fat.

But the study suggested that whole grains are old hat. The food industry, it said, needs to watch for "the next 'everyday superfood' to parallel whole grains."

I dunno. The broccoli business could use a margin boost. The only problem there is that supermarkets already sell broccoli (and carrots and spinach and all the other low-margin produce items that are by far the healthiest foods in the store.) Coming up with ways to "add value" (and therefore profits) to such 'everyday superfoods' would be a challenge.

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