Dietary Fats and Oils: Shifts in Consumer Perceptions & Behaviors

Consumers today are interested more than ever in their food. Their interest encompasses what is in food and how it is produced, but healthfulness has consistently been a top consideration. With this, and the ever-changing food landscape in mind, Dow AgroSciences, the company behind Omega-9 Oils, helped sponsor 2017 Gallup research on consumer trends related to fats and oils. This longitudinal survey has been conducted several times, dating back to 2008. The 2017 study surveyed a nationally representative sample of 815 adults 18 years and older. Below are key takeaways from the latest data.

Knowledge has Grown and Focus Has Shifted

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware the type of fat is more important than the amount of fat, with nearly six in 10 (59%) agreeing, “You don’t need to restrict fats if you choose healthy fats and oils.” In fact, fat has historically been deemed the nutrition villain by many consumers, but sugar appears to be the new evil to be avoided. When asked which they are making a greater effort to limit, 62 percent said sugar, while 38 percent named fat.

Nearly half (46%) of consumers are trying to both consume healthy fats and oils and avoid unhealthy options. Just two in 10 are focused exclusively on either consuming “good” fats or avoiding “bad” fats. When making purchase decisions, more than half (56%) of adults look for the type of fats or oils used on food packages.

Though today consumers are more educated than 10 years ago, knowledge gaps remain. Less than half (46%) of adults consider themselves to be knowledgeable about dietary fats, though this number is improving, as only 38 percent felt this way 10 years ago. Even with this progress, confusion about dietary fats remains. Consider 63 percent of adults are confused about which type of fats and oils are the healthiest. And though most adults (85%) are focused on consuming unsaturated fats, the healthy perception of butter and coconut oil has led nearly half (45%) to make efforts to consume saturated fats as well — a 20 percent increase from 2012.

Simple Messages Appeal to Consumers

Not only is the focus on fats changing, so is the language, with consumers welcoming recognizable food terms rather than fat terminology (e.g., butter vs. saturated fat). On food packages, they are looking for simple, easy to understand “better-for-you” labels. When asked which product attributes encourage brand selection of cooking oil, consumers rated labels touting “better-for-you type of oil” as the most influential (70%). This beat out trendy claims such as non-GMO (46%), environmentally friendly (46%), organic (45%) and traceable (42%).

Generational Differences Exist

Older and younger adults have differing areas of interest and behaviors. Seniors (age 65+) motivated by health concerns make stronger efforts to eat the right fats and avoid bad fats (57%, compared to 42% of millennials). They are especially attracted to “better-for-you” oils (80% vs. 66% millennials) and omega-3s (79% compared to 64% of millennials). At the same time, they are more likely to limit saturated fats (80% vs. 68% of millennials). Younger adults, particularly millennials, feel somewhat less compelled to restrict fat as long as they choose the right fats and are more attracted to organic (53% vs. 40%) and environmentally friendly oils, avocado oil, omega-9 oils (26% vs 13%), etc.

These results have strong implications for the food industry, as consumers are looking to include more of the right types of fats into their diets. Do your products meet their needs? Contact us if you’d like to learn more about Omega-9 Oils or how we can help your business make a healthier product. And be sure to watch for our next blog, which will dive into this study’s results about fats and oils in restaurants!