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International public opinion convinced about common sense of healthy eating.

International Public Opinion Convinced About Common Sense of Healthy Eating

Television pundits are fond of disparaging market research numbers and focusing their cameras instead on "garbage checks" and other direct methods of consumer assessment. Going through heaps of trash to find out what families really eat as opposed to what they say they eat may be the best way to extract real raw data.

In the past 25 years, the obsession with what other people eat has grown steadily and the editorials have proliferated. The perception now is that many people buy food not just because they can pick up bargains but because they want benefits including taste, weight control and good health. As knowledge grows, markets develop and change, brands reposition themselves and buying policies are newly fashioned. You can see this happening just by visiting Marks & Spencer in Britain, Kroger and Big Star in America, and Carrefour in France.

National cultures and cuisines inevitably influence tastes at the outset. In France, for many years, the frozen food industry struggled against the misperception that fresh was better than frozen. It was probably the development of plats cusinees (recipe dishes) that brought the French public towards an acceptance of freezing. It is almost certainly through this sector that healthy meals have found their way to the public in that country.

Two years ago, the French were reported by the Mintel research organization as being more interested in higher quality frozen ready meals than others in Europe. Many market leaders had introduced frozen versions of elaborate products and dishes to replace their dehydrated or canned forms.

On the other hand, almost half of West German families said they never bought frozen ready meals; 13% said they did so only once every three months. Fewer than one in 12 families asked said they had served a previously-frozen dish in the week before the survey. Among those who did buy frozen ready meals, a quarter preferred to stick with German dishes, compared with the 15% who served French food more often. Even fewer respondents in Germany opted for frozen Chinese or Italian meals.

Most of the frozen food sold in Germany is bought from supermarkets, but 25% is sold through hypermarkets, and 18% through home delivery services. This percentage is now thought to be much higher. The survey from which this information is taken did not include sales from the now integrated East German market.

In Britain, the ready meals market has been active for most of the past decade, but only recently has the switch in public opinion towards concern with health made itself felt in this sector. Innovation has been much more apparent in the food hall chill cabinets of Marks & Spencer, which is now facing a challenge from Sainsbury, the country's largest supermarket group. (In the past six months, Sainsbury has added 39 chilled lines, bringing its total offer up to 90).

In the frozen food sector, the momentum in ready meals was started by Nestle with its range of Lean Cuisine entrees sold in Europe under the Findus brand - not Stouffer as in the United States.

Lean Cuisine is a direct appeal to customers seeking to lose weight, and it was challenged from the start by the public perception of healthy eating: low fat, reduced cholesterol or sodium, and more fiber. Stouffer responded to that in the United States with another brand, Right Course, whose entrees were positioned in the healthy sector, although calories were still mentioned. The Solon, Ohio-based packer has now decided to go the full distance with a reformulation of Lean Cuisine, dropping Right Course in the process.

Will the same be done in Europe? "The factors low fat, low cholesterol, low salt introduced by Stouffer in the Lean Cusine line are not yet introduced outside the USA in the same way", this reporter was told by a company insider. "This kind of decision would be taken, if any, by each national management, according to each local situation."

This could be too cautious. In Britain, a serious lead has been taken by the Birds Eye company with Healthy Options, introduced in 1989, and positioned, like ConAgra's Healthy Choice range of entrees, in the healthy eating sector. Unlike Healthy Choice's, however, Birds Eye's press publicity makes no mention of cholesterol, fiber, sodium or fat, either because the company assumes the public doesn't know or doesn't care. Birds Eye learned a long time ago that public opinion matters very much, so one must assume that British public opinion is aware and that Healthy Options is a direct response to that knowledge.

According to analysis from Birds Eye: "The health sector grew in 1990 from 18% to 21% of the frozen ready meals market. Within the healthy meals sector Healthy Options achieved a 23% sterling share by the end of the year, giving a 5% value share of the ready meals market."

It is not clear whether or not Lean Cuisine is included by Birds Eye in the healthy meals sector, but the company estimates that before the launch of Healthy Options only diet dishes catered to the health conscious consumer. "Moreover, only 9.5% of the population was buying slimming meals, leaving a giant 90.5% unsatisfied."

The Healthy Options range now includes: Chicken Chasseur, Spaghetti Bolognese, Vegetable Lasagne Al Forno, Beef Bourgiognon, Tandoori Chicken Masala, Kashmiri Beef Curry, Honey Glazed Chicken, Chili con Carne, Chicken and Ham Lasagne, Vegetable Tandoori Curry, Chinese Prawns with Oriental Vegetables, Vegetable Bolognese, Chicken Korma, Vegetable Chili, Lean Beef Casserole, Cod in a Wine and Mushroom Sauce, Cod in a Wine and Herb Sauce, Lemon Souffle Dessert, Strawberry Fromage Frais and Real Chocolate Mousse with White Chocolate.

In comparison, the Healthy Choice range from ConAgra includes 20 premium quality frozen dinners with controlled levels of sodium, fat and cholesterol. They are: Chicken Oriental, Shrimp Creole, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Breast of Turkey, Beef Pepper Steak, Beef Sirloin Tips, Sole au Gratin, Chicken Parmigiana, Salisbury Steak, Chicken and Pasta Divan, Shrimp Marinara, Herb Roasted Chicken, Yankee Pot Roast, Mesquite Chicken, Beef Enchilada, Chicken Dijon, Chicken Enchilada, Pasta Primavera, Salsa Chicken and Sirlion Beef with Barbecue Sauce.

A review of the above reveals the difference between British and American cuisines, and the very big difference in approach on nutrition. In America, words like cholesterol, sodium and fiber mean something. Maybe they do not yet account for much in Britain or Europe.

PHOTO : New to Budget Gourmet's Light and Healthy Dinners line is Italian Style Meatloaf. The 11 oz. product comes with a vegetable blend of broccoli, cauliflower, red bell peppers, plus rotini pasta and green beans. Produced by the All American Gourmet Co., Orange, Calif., it contains inder under 300 calories and is low in cholesterol, fat and sodium.
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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Kemp, Graham
Publication:Quick Frozen Foods International
Date:Oct 1, 1991
Previous Article:Nutrition labeling for whose good? EEC, USA coming to grips with claims.
Next Article:Nutrition labeling plan draws response from NFI.

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