Friday, 25 May 2012
How Consumers Can Influence Food Choices
I am of the opinion that consumers can collectively influence what foods and beverages retailers make available for purchase in their stores at affordable prices. If people continue to buy things detrimental to health, such as foods and soft drinks laden with sugar for instance, then that is what will take up the majority of the space at the retail outlets concerned.
The main shift detected in consumer habits over the last twenty years or so has been away from conventional foods and drinks towards organic produce. However, over the last two or three years this movement away from conventional produce has come to a halt mainly because of increasing price differentials; the indications are that people are prepared to pay 10-20% more, but not 50% or 100% more, for organic produce.
Whilst organic foods are healthier than conventional ones insofar as they are produced without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides or the help of artificial products, it is not necessary to qualify for that particular accreditation in order for foods and beverages to contain more nutrients than what is generally available at present. My February post titled “Beware Of White Processed Foods “ highlights unnecessary processes that go on in the production of white flour and white rice that takes away a large part of their nutritive value.
One of the main derivative products of white flour is white bread. If a significant number of consumers switched from buying white bread to wholemeal bread, for instance, that would force retailers to make the latter available in bigger quantities to meet the increased demand. The same logic applies to white rice and pasta; retailers would make more brown rice and wholegrain pasta available on their shelves if there was an increased demand for them.
In the soft drinks section, any movement away from products containing ingredients detrimental to health like sugar, or sugar substitutes (which includes descriptions in the ingredients list like “corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, aspartame etc”), would be detected by the retailer and their stocking policy would be adjusted accordingly.
If you cannot find a product in your local store to meet your requirements, what can you do about it ? You could make suggestions to your retailer that there is a market for the product you are seeking by making comments to the staff in the store, or via the internet. My local Asda supermarket in Edgware, England enables me to go online after a visit and make comments or suggestions on anything quoting my receipt number as a reference.
One possible suggestion you could make to retailers is to provide a healthy alternative to the soft drinks generally on display in their stores, which are a health hazard because of the added sugars or sugar substitutes. Couldn’t an alternative sweetener like stevia be used instead ? Stevia, which is a collection of herbs much sweeter than sugar originating from the Americas, was approved by the European Union last year for use in member countries. Stevia has an alkalising effect on the body as opposed to the acidic influence of sugar in all its various guises.
The present attitude of retailers will not change unless a significant amount of consumers take steps to improve the availability of healthy foods and beverages at reasonable prices. From once a healthier range of produce is available, the retailers’ systems will detect, almost immediately, any change in sentiment due to the bar coding systems linked to computers they have in place. Therefore the first objective is to get a healthier choice of products than exists at present on the shelves in the first instance !