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Green phonies? 3 in 10 buy healthy foods only because they’re trendy – – Study Finds

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NEW YORK — Is healthy eating really catching on — or is a greener diet just a passing fad? It turns out fewer people might be committed to a more sustainable menu than you think. It turns out that 30 percent of Americans admit to buying healthy foods just because they’re trendy.

A survey of 2,000 adults looked at the country’s food purchasing practices and found that 65 percent rate their grocery shopping habits as at least somewhat healthy. When stacked up against other priorities, however, healthiness (18%) came in fourth, trailing far behind cost (64%), quality (36%), and personal preferences (19%).

Conducted by Talker Research for Zeal Creamery, the survey found that 82 percent still opt for products that use “healthwashing” terms — labels intended to convey a product’s health benefits — like “multigrain” (33%), “sugar-free” (30%), and “organic” (27%). Among those terms, others that respondents view positively include “high-in” (31%) and “free-range” (30%). Above all, the top grocery category Americans would be willing to splurge on is organic produce (25%).

While Americans are most confident in their understanding of “organic” (65%), “sugar-free” (65%), and “multigrain” (64%) products, they’re admittedly less sure about products that claim to be “reduced” (23%), “fortified with” (22%), and “light” (21%). With all of the different healthwashing terms out there, nearly a third of those surveyed feel overwhelmed by the labels on the foods they see while shopping (31%).

shopping healthy
It turns out that 30% of Americans admit to buying healthy foods just because they’re trendy. (Photo by Boxed Water Is Better on Unsplash)

For many, this leads to misinformation, like the belief that fresh produce is always healthier than canned, frozen, or dried options (38%) and that all processed foods are bad (25%). Similarly, one in five respondents mistakenly believe that dairy milk alternatives such as soy milk or almond milk are always healthier (21%), while one in eight is under the impression that dairy products are unsustainably farmed.

“The survey results reflect the reality that Americans can be exposed to exaggerated claims about the impact of dairy on the environment versus the positive impacts that pastoral, regenerative farming has on the environment,” says Jason Henshaw, president of Zeal Creamery, in a statement. “The upside is that there’s a huge opportunity for people to learn about dairy sustainability, regenerative grass-fed farming, and how to incorporate that into their choices.”

Sustainability is an important factor for one in six respondents when grocery shopping. Yet, few survey-takers were aware that the production of things like rice (7%), soybeans (8%), mineral water (8%), and almond milk (10%) can be harmful to the environment.

Nearly a fifth of the poll viewed the dairy industry’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions as negative (18%), while most weren’t sure or didn’t believe it had much effect (52%). The average American thought that the global dairy industry contributed to about 12 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions — three times more than the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports.

Similarly, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that dairy cows contributed to just 1.3 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Henshaw points out that a quarter of respondents felt surprised (25%) and a fifth interested (21%) at this revelation, saying, “A lot of Americans enjoy dairy and want to feel good about their food choices.”

Grocery Items Americans Would Spend More Money On:

  1. Organic produce — 25%
  2. “High in” (e.g., vitamins, calcium, etc.) — 24%
  3. Sugar-free — 21%
  4. “Reduced” products (e.g., reduced fat, reduced sugar, etc.) — 20% [TIED]
  5. Free-range —20% [TIED]
  6. Multigrain — 20%
  7. “Fortified with” (e.g., vitamins, minerals, etc.) — 19%
  8. Organic dairy — 16%
  9. “Light” products (e.g., light salad dressing, light salt, etc.) — 16%
  10. Pasture-raised — 12%

Survey methodology:

This random double-opt-in survey of 2,000 general population Americans was commissioned by Zeal Creamery between April 11 and April 15, 2024. It was conducted by market research company Talker Research, whose team members are members of the Market Research Society (MRS) and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research (ESOMAR).

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