One way to measure consumer concerns related to specific food and beverage ingredients is to understand what ingredients they are trying to limit or avoid in their diet. With that in mind, it appears fats and oils are not as much of a priority compared to some other ingredients.

The International Food Information Council’s 2014 Food & Health Survey showed the majority of consumers are concerned about the amount of sodium/salt and sugar they consume. Only 29% of survey respondents identified fats and oils as an ingredient they are trying to limit or avoid.

Part of the reason may relate to the notion some consumers are beginning to develop a deeper understanding that there are differences between the types of fats and oils used to formulate food and beverage products. For example, a recent survey conducted by Cargill shows the penetration omega-3 fatty acids have made over the years.

At least 98% of consumers have now heard of omega-3 oils, according to the company’s most recent “Fatitudes” survey of consumers. An increasing number are more likely to purchase products containing alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 oils.

“The Fatitudes research will help our customers better understand opportunities specific to fats and oils,” said Kristine Sanschagrin, marketing manager at Cargill specialty seeds and oil. “It provides consumer insights to help develop or reformulate products and grow market share.”

The study’s look at how consumers view omega-3 oils, in particular, may help food and beverage manufacturers develop products with messaging that is meaningful to grocery shoppers, according to Cargill. Specifically, DHA omega-3 has the most impact on purchase intent (23%) followed by EPA (16%) and ALA (11%).

The Fatitudes study was conducted in 2013 and repeated in 2014 with a sample of more than 500 U.S. consumers between the ages of 18-68, who are grocery shoppers for their household.

Ms. Sanschagrin added that the survey shows consumers continue to be aware and check for the fat in the products they buy for their families.

“By region, the Northeast has the highest likelihood to check followed by the West,” she said. “By generation millennials and boomers are more concerned than Gen Xers, and women are aware of and check for fat more than do men.”

The top five product categories consumers are checking for fat include salad dressing, potato chips, donuts, cookies and granola bars.

“Lard and partially hydrogenated oils continue to be perceived to be as the least healthy oils consumers can buy,” Ms. Sanschagrin said.

A deeper dive into consumption trends

A study covering 30 years and involving 12,526 adults in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area found a downward trend in the intake of total fat, trans fat and saturated fat. However, mean intakes for both trans fat and saturated fat were still above recommended levels, and mean intakes for two kinds of omega-3 fatty acids were below recommended levels.

Results of the study were published Oct. 22 in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota in
Minneapolis examined trends in fatty acid intake from 1980-82 through 2007-09. Twenty-four-hour dietary recalls were collected from people enrolled in the Minnesota Heart Survey, a series of six independent cross-sectional surveys designed to monitor cardiovascular risk factors in adults living in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area.

The per cent of calories from total fat decreased to a mean of 33.3% in 2007-09 from a mean of 38.7% in 1980-82. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend daily total fat intake of 20% to 35% of total caloric intake.

Other decreases in the Minneapolis-St. Paul study came for saturated fat, to a mean of 11.4% in 2007-09 from a mean of 13.7% in 1980-82, and trans fat, to a mean of 1.9% in 2007-09 from a mean of 2.9% in 1980-82.

The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend daily saturated fatty acid intake of less than 10% of total caloric intake and trans fatty acid intake as low as possible. The American Heart Association, Dallas, recommends restricting saturated fatty intake to 5% to 6% of total caloric intake and trans fatty acid intake to less than 1%.

“Overall, the results of the present study demonstrate encouraging trends but offer evidence that current dietary recommendations for fatty acid intake are not being met in the population,” the researchers said.

The study also examined intake of EPA and DHA. The mean of daily intake of EPA fell to 0.04% of total caloric intake in 2007-09 from 0.06% in 1980-82. The mean of daily intake of DHA fell to 0.09% of total caloric intake in 2007-09 from 0.1% in 1980-82.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the American Heart Association both recommend increasing omega-3 fatty acid intake with a goal of consuming about 0.25 grams of DHA and EPA combined per day. To meet this recommendation, twice the current level of consumption is needed, the researchers said.