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Health and natural foods.

According to a new study by Packaged Facts, the New York-based research company, the market for health and natural foods grew only 4% last year to reach sales of $2.98 billion.

The Packaged Facts study goes on to predict that the market will pick up another 4% this year, pushing sales over the $3 billion mark. It further anticipates that growth will bolt upwards in 1993 to 7.1%, staying in that range through 1996, when it will pass the $4 billion mark.

Growth in the 7% range is solid enough, but seems slim, indeed, compared with the annual double-digit gains the market was making between 1988 and 1990. And this diminished growth rate seems paradoxical since, by all accounts, the green revolution is rolling along at full throttle.

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," (the seminal text of today's eco-consciousness). It's a tribute to the change Ms. Carson helped create that it's difficult to comprehend how solitary a voice she once was. (Now we have a leader in Washington who declares himself The Ecological President; an environmental conference (The Rio Summit) draws more heads of state than any previous event in the history of the world; and daily, our newspapers report new research data demonstrating the role of nutrition and the importance of food purity in preserving health.)

Given this overall trend, why is the market shrinking when green consciousness is at an all time high? According to David A. Weiss, president of Packaged Facts, it's because "green consciousness is not green action." Responding in detail to the anecdotes we cited, Mr. Weiss extrapolated, "President Bush may have declared himself "the ecological president,' but, upon arriving in Brazil, he was ostracized by a number of ecogroups; the Rio summit hay have been the largest convocation of world leaders in recorded history, but the accords signed there are already being decried as inconsequential. The same sort of ambivalence about greening can be see when it comes to eating."

And indeed, the Packaged Facts' study notes that an FDA survey has stated that 85% of all (literate) Americans read product labels in order to screen out unhealthy ingredients or to ascertain that certain nutrients are included. Conversely, other research suggests that consumption of junk foods is at an all time high.

Mr. Weiss explains the incongruity this way, "America has acquired a green sensibility, and made some steps towards healthy eating. But instead of adhering to a strict regimen, most consumers have continued to allow themselves a sin allowance. They're aware that they're eating garbage, but they just think that they're entitled to it because they've sacrificed an unhealthy dessert or made a low-cal or low-fat substitution in their diet. That's why you'll see restaurant customers ordering a burger, fries, and a bottled water or diet soda, and then sweet-n-low for their coffee. They're making a few nods to healthy eating, but when it really comes down to it, most consumers are still not willing to make the tough choices."

This might be said of the federal government as well, if the fate of USDA's food pyramid is any indication. This innovative illustration of healthy eating was supposed to replace the "basic four" pie chart of meat, milk, vegetables and fruits, which was the previous guide to healthy eating. The new pyramid is weighted at the bottom with grains and legumes, with the narrow top section composed of meat and dairy products. This, of course, was meant to demonstrate the relative proportions in each food group consumed in a healthy diet. However, after a number of complaints from lobbying organizations representing dairy and meat producers, the pyramid was quickly deep-sixed.

According to Mr. Weiss, "This happened because, when it came right down to it, politicians and bureaucrats just didn't have a real gut feeling that the food pyramid was really important. And they didn't feel it was important because they knew they wouldn't catch any real heat from the public for trashing it. That tells you a lot about the public's depth of conviction about healthy eating. In order for the health and natural foods market to return to the dynamic growth of the late '80s, it will have to get to the next level of acceptance by Americans. Consumers will have to believe that health and natural foods are not just something to be served occasionally in order to win a few dietary brownie points, but should be, instead, intrinsic to a healthy lifestyle."
Projected Retail Sales and Growth of Health and Natural Foods
(1992-1996) (In Billions)
Year Retail Volume % Change
1996 $4.12 7.5%
1995 3.83 7.9
1994 3.55 6.9
1993 3.32 7.1
1992 3.10 4.0
1991 2.98 -
Source: Packaged Facts
COPYRIGHT 1992 Frozen Food Digest, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:consumption by Americans
Publication:Frozen Food Digest
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:Oct 1, 1992
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