Convenience more important than health for American consumers making food choices

(NewsTarget) The NPD Group's 21st annual Eating Patterns in America report has found that consumer-purchasing decisions in the United States are still primarily convenience-driven, despite an increased focus on health over the last year.

“The driving force in our eating habits has always been convenience," said report author and NPD Vice President Harry Balzer. "The only surprise is how that will manifest in our behavior."

The report's conclusion was drawn from data from more than 40 NPD research efforts, which noted three consumer behaviors: more people were relying on sandwiches at mealtimes, fewer were using fresh ingredients, and more were purchasing take-out food. Sandwiches have always been the most popular lunch food, according to the report, but over the last year they have become the No. 1 dinnertime food in American homes, too. Eleven point one percent of home meals include a sandwich, however the report found that even sandwiches are starting to lose ground to convenient take-out meals. The average American family eats 13 take-out lunches a year, compared to 8 in 1990.

"While the frequency is still low, this is a reflection of a bigger issue: How do we make fresh foods easier?" said Balzer. "I think we're saying, 'Let the restaurant operator worry about having fresh bread, fresh tomatoes, fresh lettuce, fresh meat.'"

More than half of the 50,000 households studied reported choosing their evening meal based on how easy it was to make; 40 percent said they prepare their meals with what they have around the kitchen; 35 percent say the whole family agreeing on the dish is most important factor; and 34 percent choose a meal based on what is easiest to clean up. Healthy, nutritious meals came next, and while Americans showed an increase in concern for these meals, they still came much lower on the list.

Still, Americans have been looking for healthy ways to eat. In 2006 so far, 64 percent of adults surveyed said they wanted to get more whole grains in their diet, 58 percent wanted more dietary fiber, another 58 percent wanted more calcium, and 55 percent were trying to add more vitamin C. Americans are also becoming increasingly aware of the need to cut harmful food additives from their diet, as 71 percent of adults said they wanted to cut down fat, 62 percent said they wanted to cut calories, 62 percent were looking to lower cholesterol, and 58 percent said they wanted to reduce their sugar intake.

"Healthy eating will take hold when it is either easier or cheaper to do than what we do now," the report stated.