Allison Beadle, MS, RD, LD
Editor, RDBA Weekly
Yesterday, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and Prevention magazine released their 21st annual Shopping for Health survey. For many of us, reading this survey is something we do every year. If you’ve never read it before, I highly recommend that you do. It’s loaded with very interesting insights, and we’ll be delving into some of these in subsequent issues of RDBA Weekly.
Today, I want to focus on a couple of takeaways that jumped out at me as I reviewed the survey results: 1) avoidance of unhealthy foods is a primary strategy for healthy eating, and 2) shoppers are struggling with low motivation to make the healthy choices they know they need to make. I think there’s something going on here.
Specifically, the Shopping for Health survey found that 62 percent of shoppers avoid foods they believe to be unhealthy as their primary healthy eating strategy. And I suppose the upside to this is that confusion over what’s healthy and what’s not seems to be declining: 47 percent cited “conflicting information” as a barrier to healthy eating, down from 62 percent in the 2007 survey. And as far as motivation is concerned, 60 percent of shoppers said it’s too hard to change their eating habits.
So, could there be a connection between avoidance as a primary healthy eating strategy and low motivation as a healthy eating barrier?
Behavioral psychologists tell us that we’re more likely to be motivated to do something (and feel good about it) if it’s rooted in positive thinking rather than guilt or fear. So, why should we expect shoppers to be motivated to eat healthier if their first line of action is rooted in negative thinking (i.e., avoidance)? I don’t think it takes a PhD in psychology to understand the connection here.
Think about the headlines that get the most traction: eat less of X because it might increase your risk of cancer; avoid Y because it contributes to obesity; eliminate Z because it’s associated with diabetes. Sure, these headlines catch eyeballs, which can help with advertising sales, but I suspect that they contribute to the mindset of avoidance, hampering motivation to eat healthier.
The intro to the Shopping for Health executive summary hits the nail on the head:
“Shoppers need motivation to make changes to their habits and eat healthily. A potential path to healthier eating involves discovering healthy food that tastes good as well as finding ways to make shopping for healthy food easier and more convenient.”
What does all of this mean for retail dietitians? We’ve got our work cut out for us. Some thoughts: With negative messaging proliferating in the media, there’s never been a more important time for retail dietitian programming to be focused on positive messaging and in a highly visible way. Leading with flavor messages rather than nutrient messages may also be an important strategy. Taste is consistently the most important purchasing driver, so why not woo customers to make healthy choices because they taste good, not just because they have the right nutrient profile?
What do you think about the connection between motivation and avoidance? Let’s get the conversation started in the comments section below—we’d love to hear from you!
To learn more about FMI’s 2013 Shopping for Health Survey, visit the FMI store here.