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Mintel Survey Says Americans Prefer Exercise Over Healthy Eating, Partly Due to Cost Factor

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As Americans look to kick off 2019 on the right foot, it seems this year’s resolutions are more likely to see consumers hitting the gym than improving the quality of their diets.

While folks recognize the importance of a healthy diet, with 60% saying eating healthy food is important as compared to 57% who say the same for exercising, newly published research findings from the Chicago, Illinois-headquartered Mintel Group reveals that Americans prefer to jump-start their healthy lifestyles through exercise. Consumers are more likely to say that exercising is worth the effort (48% vs. 31% eating healthy), fun/enjoyable (28% vs. 17%), empowering (27% vs. 16%) and a source of pride (21% vs. 15%) than eating healthy.

When it comes to the actions taken to stay healthy, a healthy diet falls farther down the list. The top ways consumers say that they stay healthy is by drinking enough water (54%), exercising regularly (50%) and getting enough sleep (38%). Meanwhile, Americans are less likely to change their diet to stay healthy. For example, by avoiding sugar (21%), eating a low-calorie diet (12%) or limiting the amount of meat they consume (12%).

Cost is a factor in encouraging people to put on their running shoes rather than improve their diet as consumers are nearly seven times more likely to agree that it’s expensive to eat healthy food (34%) than they are to agree it’s expensive to exercise (5%).

“Americans are cognizant of the benefits of a healthy diet. However, when it comes to actually making lifestyle changes, the majority are more likely to find exercise to be engaging and a good way to see positive results such as improved health and managed stress,” said Mike Gallinari, Mintel’s travel and leisure analyst.

Exercise has a number of positive associations, and while consumers acknowledge the value of a healthy diet, attitudes like the perceived high cost of following one sometimes serve as a barrier. As exercise is the driving force behind jump-starting healthy lifestyle changes in the New Year, healthy food marketers should consider associating their products with exercise to make the food a part of the emotional experience of healthy activity.”

Balance is Key

While consumers say they prefer to reap the benefits of working out, the majority still makes an effort to keep their diet on track. Mintel research reveals that although just 7% say they are strict with themselves to ensure that their diet is as healthy as possible, 31% say they maintain a healthy diet most of the time. Many find that balance is key, as 38% say their diet is a mix of healthy and not-so-healthy eating, with another 73% agreeing that indulgences are permissible in a healthy diet.

Whether taking small steps toward a healthier diet or going all in for it, nearly half (45%) of consumers say that they are purchasing more healthy food today as compared to a year ago. When it comes to making healthier choices, 52% say they read the nutrition labels when purchasing new foods and 47% try to use healthier oils when cooking. What’s more, many consumers are giving the foods they eat a closer look as 39% say they pay attention to serving sizes on food labels.

Certain diets are grabbing both headlines and consumers’ attention as 18% say they’re interested in following either a ketogenic or paleo diet, respectively.

“The fact that consumers claim to be purchasing more healthy food and drinks this year is a clear reflection of the intent to eat healthier, if not the actual behavior. This provides a broad indication of the opportunity for marketers to help consumers make healthier choices by, for example, offering more prominent nutrition labels and information. There is also a chance to address the issue from a meal-planning standpoint through a system that makes it easier for consumers to make healthy choices by suggesting food combinations covering a meal, day or full week,” said John Owen, Mintel’s senior food and drink analyst.

When it comes to choosing healthy food and beverages, healthy eaters* are most likely to look for options perceived to offer freshness (67%), have low/no sugar (51%) or that are all natural (45%).

Younger healthy eaters aged 18-34 in particular are most likely to look for food and beverages based on protein content (43% vs. 39% overall), as well as whether the product is organic (37% vs. 28%) or plant-based (19% vs. 12%).

Cynicism About “Super” Claims
But with more and more healthy foods popping up on store shelves, there is some cynicism, as 58% of consumers say they are skeptical of food products labeled “super food” and just 40% agree that they trust the health claims on food/beverage packaging. And it seems less is more when it comes to ingredients, as 60% believe that food products with fewer ingredients tend to be healthier.

“Consistent with faster growth in grocery retailer perimeter departments such as produce, meat and seafood, consumers who eat healthy are substantially more likely to make freshness a priority. For packaged food brands, an emphasis on wholesome ingredients and cross-promotions and adjacencies with fresh produce could help to enhance perceptions of freshness and health,” concluded Owen.

Mintel’s survey base consisted of 1,758 Internet users aged 18+ who claim they try to eat healthy food at least some of the time.