Health, environment, territory. Consumer choices in the Coop survey

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One in two consumers, most often women, are choosing what to put in their food shopping carts with increasing care. It looks at theorigin of raw materials, the environmental impact of production, and nutritional profiles. In search of balance, for sustainable spending and healthy eating. So it is hoped, based on Metrica Ricerche’s survey for ‘Consumatori,’ Coop Italia’s monthly magazine.

The information that is still missing

Information on food and nutrition is considered ‘very adequate‘ by only 13% of the sample. ‘Partially adequate‘ or ‘inadequate‘ for almost all consumers surveyed (45% and 42%, respectively).

Consumers’ chosen sources of information see TV in first place (33 percent), followed by web and social networks (27 percent), family and friends (25.5 percent). Newspapers and magazines inform 14% of the sample. Doctors and experts, on the other hand, have a residual role (11 percent), unfortunately, in providing information on nutrition.

These data-although collected from a relatively small sample of consumers, throughout the entire country (1,007 people)-induce, among other things, reflection on the need to develop science-based nutrition education programs and nutritional recommendations. To counter viral deception,
fake news
and advice instead based on commercial or biased interests.

The function of labels

Labels are always consulted, before buying food, by 54% of consumAtors. More scrupulously by female consumers (63%). The remaining 40% of the sample say they read them only sometimes.

The most sought-after items on the label are the expiration date or minimum shelf life (76 percent) and the origin of the ingredients (49 percent). No mention, interestingly, for the ingredient list. The nutrition table is considered by only 19% of the sample.

Food-related fears

The fears on the plate of Italians are in line with those recorded by Eurobarometer, in the EU as well as in the Balkans and Turkey. Attention is greatest, once again, among female consumers. The ranking of food-related concerns, on a scale of 1 to 10:

– Pesticides in fruits and vegetables (8.13),

– antibiotics in meats (8,12),

– contaminants in fish (8.01),

– additives and dyes (7.94),

– GMO (7.59),

– packaging materials (7.15).

The drivers of spending

Purchase choices are driven by provenance and price. Indeed, on the scale of 1 to 10, Made in Italy (8.29), offers (8.16) and affordable price (8.05) stand out.

Consumers say they pay attention to the seasonality of fresh foods (7.86) and typical products (7.82). Seventy-two percent of respondents say they appreciate the supply of products from their local area and those from short supply chains, which are considered

– more genuine (44.4 percent),

– useful in protecting the Italian economy and production (29 percent),

– with reduced environmental impact (19.5 percent).

The search for local products and popular prices penalizes fair trade products, purchased by only 33.6 percent of respondents. Disinterest is expressed by those who prefer Italian products (37.8%), those who are unfamiliar with them (33.9) or consider them too expensive (12%).

Environment and health

The environmental impact of production convinced 55.5 percent of respondents to change their food choices. This focus is most pronounced among women (58.2 percent) and college graduates (66.8 percent).

Organic productions and/or accompanied by nutritional claims (with less fat, sugar, etc.) continue to gain market share. Seventy-three percent of respondents rate the supply of foods for healthy eating as adequate, and 70.5 percent say they are ready to spend more. Data confirmed by the performance of Coop’s Bene.sì and Vivi Verde lines.

Vegan diets on the decline

Respondents’ self-reported eating habits converge in 48.4 percent of cases on the Mediterranean diet (followed by 62 percent of college graduates).

Vegetarian and vegan diets appear much less common (0.8 percent adherents for the former, 0.1 percent for the latter) than recent Eurispes findings (8.9 percent). The tendency to consume a lot of vegetables is stated by 3.6 percent of the sample (5.6 percent among women). In contrast, 36 percent shy away from the definition and say they eat a varied diet.

Weight-loss dietary regimens have been followed in the last five years by 30% of Italians surveyed (37.5% among women). Dietary advice comes from specialists (dietician or nutritionist) in 40% of cases, from family physicians in 21%. Do-it-yourself diets persist, with elimination of certain foods (23%, 28.6 among males), application of suggestions found on the web (9%, 13.2% among males) or with friends (4%).

In contrast, exercise is still poorly practiced by 40 percent of respondents. 21.5% (25.9% among women) do not practice, 19% do less than 5 years ago. Only 10.5% say they do more activities than in the past.

Less sugar, salt and meat

HFSS(High in Fats, Sugar and Sodium) foods are losing share, according to sample statements. In the last five years, 60% consume less sugar, 58% have reduced salt, 54% have reduced carbonated and/or sugary drinks, 49% have reduced fried foods, 45% have reduced sweets, 37% have reduced meat and cold cuts, and 27% have reduced dairy products.

Little understood, in the search for healthy foods, the choice of gluten-free. Which is indicated by 21% of respondents, although the only ones who are forced into it due to health needs (those with celiac disease) account for 1-2% of the population.

Marta Strinati

Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".