Americans Are Putting Faith In Superfoods To Control Their Health

By Haley Hastings, Marketing Assistant, Nielsen Perishables Group

In recent years, health and wellness have become a top priority for consumers across the U.S. According to a recent Nielsen survey, Health & Wellness in America, the desire to achieve an improved quality of life drives consumers to pursue specific health and wellness behaviors, such as consuming healthy foods or reading package labels. And amidst the steady stream of health-focused fads, many consumers are going back to basics and proactively using food to address their health issues. Three-fourths of consumers believe they can manage health through nutrition and nearly one-third believe food can take the place of medicine.

Enter the “superfood.” Consumers are seeking these nutrient-rich products in increasing numbers — and we’re not just talking kale (although the leafy green shows no signs of waning in popularity, increasing at a compound annual rate of 56.6 percent from 2009 to 2013). A variety of superfoods are finding their way from the produce department into shoppers’ carts across the U.S.

But what exactly is a superfood? In a recent paper published in the CDC’s journal, Preventing Chronic Disease, Nielsen studied 41 powerhouse fruits and vegetables that contain at least 10 percent daily value of 17 nutrients per 100 calories. Using these criteria, certain familiar categories including kale, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and spinach all made the list. During the latest 52 weeks ending July 26, 2014, kale posted the strongest dollar and volume growth among these super vegetables, up 65 percent and 55 percent, respectively. The number of unique kale items selling on store shelves (impressions) also increased during this period, up 50 percent compared to the previous year. Brussels sprouts followed similar growth patterns, increasing dollar and volume sales 17 percent and 7 percent, and impressions 15 percent during this time. Cabbage dollar and volume jumped 9 percent and 3 percent.

The list of nutrient-dense products also included some categories that many consumers wouldn’t necessarily associate with the term “superfood.” Limes, pumpkins, mustard greens and dandelion greens all made the list — smaller, less common categories like dandelion greens even posted significant growth, up 11 percent in dollar sales and 7 percent in volume.

Some of the most nutrient-dense foods on Nielsen’s list included watercress, Chinese cabbage, chard, beet greens and spinach. Among these superfoods, spinach topped dollar and volume sales growth during the latest 52 weeks, up nearly 7 percent and 3 percent, respectively. However, chard and beet greens each decreased dollar and volume sales compared to the previous year. Chard posted dips in dollar and volume sales of 1 percent and 3 percent during the latest 52 weeks, while beet greens posted significant declines, down 15 percent and 18 percent from the previous year. While fluctuations in seasonality and retail pricing likely play a part in these declines, lack of consumer education on the benefits of these foods and how to prepare them might also come into play.

According to the Nielsen survey, 40 percent of consumers surveyed expressed confusion over nutritional labeling, pointing to an opportunity for retailers and manufacturers to further educate consumers with accessible, easy-to-understand and transparent nutritional information. Touting the benefits of lesser-known and surprising superfoods for health-hungry consumers could be a key step on the path to further category growth.

Additionally, half of the 471 participants in the Nielsen survey noted they were not willing to give up taste for health. For retailers and manufacturers, creative merchandising for superfoods via recipe ideas or cross promotions with spices, seasonings and other meal components can go a long way toward providing the added kick for meal solutions that are both healthy and good-tasting.