Study: Consumers closely monitor fats, oils in packaged food

Nearly two-thirds of U.S. consumers report avoiding certain fats or oils.

June 1, 2020

3 Min Read
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Most consumers (68%) across the world report closely monitoring the type and amount of fat and oil in their packaged food, according to a recent global "FATitudes" study from Cargill. The study confirmed that consumers track what goes into their bodies by closely reading labels of packaged foods, with fat and oil type as strong purchase consideration factors.

Cargill conducts the "FATitudes" study each year to learn more about consumers’ awareness, perceptions and behaviors regarding fats and oils found in packaged foods and to help inform the future of food innovation. This year, approximately 6,600 primary household grocery shoppers were surveyed in 12 countries, including the U.S., Germany, China, Brazil, the U.K. and more.

“This type of research is important because it gives Cargill and our customers a guidepost for our innovation efforts,” said Nese Tagma, managing director of strategy and innovation for Cargill’s global edible oils business. “As consumers’ attitudes toward fats and oils have shifted in recent years, we know they’re interested in consuming healthy amounts of oils. We’re able to offer a broad portfolio of fat and oil solutions, including our Clear Valley line, which has a canola-based product with lower saturated fat. This research is vital to guide our thinking on whether to revitalize tried-and-true products or develop a new frying oil to adapt to changing tastes and health options.”

Here are some key findings from the study:

  • A majority of global consumers report that the amount of fat (70%) and type of oil (67%) are important factors when determining which packaged foods to purchase.

  • How often consumers read labels differs by geography. Chinese consumers pay the most attention (89%), and German consumers monitor the least (48%).

  • Nearly two-thirds (61%) of U.S. consumers report avoiding certain fats or oils, and among those who rank as “clean-label seekers,” 83% report avoiding certain fats or oils, like saturated and trans fats.

  • Olive oil tops the list in every country for impact on purchase and perceptions of healthfulness in packaged foods, followed by fish and avocado oils.

  • A vast majority of global consumers -- 93% -- are aware of omega-3s, which is an important nutrient with many health benefits some consumers don’t get through their typical diet.

Consumers are influenced by claims on packaged food, such as:

  • Most consumers are checking labels for fat-related claims (fat free, low fat, etc.) on packaged foods, and 54% say such a claim makes them more likely to purchase the product.

  • Consumers in Russia (76%), China (62%) and Brazil (61%) indicate that they are more likely to purchase a product with a sustainability claim.

  • In most countries, an organic certification on a label has more impact on purchasing decisions versus a non-genetically modified organism verification.

Allison Webster, director of research and nutrition communications for the International Food Information Council (IFIC), emphasized the importance of this global perspective.

“IFIC’s U.S.-based consumer research consistently shows that while nutrition information, expiration date and ingredients lists are most often consulted when deciding what to eat, labels and health claims are also highly influential on food purchasing decisions,” Webster said. “Cargill’s 'FATitudes' survey looks at similar perceptions and behaviors specifically related to fats and oils, this time from an international vantage point. These global perspectives shed light on important differences between countries and provide critical insights into how people around the world think about two all-important questions: ‘What should I eat, and why?’”

Delivering insights to drive food innovation

The results from "FATitudes" help Cargill food innovators understand what consumers want, enabling them to develop innovative products that deliver on changing needs and desires, since by gathering consumer-based insights, strategic product development can take shape more effectively.

"Food is becoming increasingly personalized; consumers are basing their purchasing decisions on specific ingredients. At the same time, society is driving food ingredient companies to develop more options for health-conscious consumers. Using consumer insights helps us innovate in ways that balance the societal pressures with individual preferences to create healthful, sustainable and cost-effective products,” said Florian Schattenmann, chief technology officer and vice president of innovation and research and development at Cargill.

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