Press Room

Talking About Diet: When Less is More

Around the world, consumers are increasingly opting for specialized diets that address their desire to eat organic, low-fat, low-carb, or eliminate ingredients based on food sensitivities, allergies, or personal convictions. Approximately two-thirds of the respondents (64%) in Nielsen’s new Global Health and Ingredient-Sentiment Survey said they follow a diet that limits or prohibits consumption of at least some foods or ingredients; response rates in Africa/Middle East (84%) and Asia-Pacific (72%) were higher than the global average, while only more than half Taiwan respondents (55%) said so. Two-thirds of global and Taiwan consumers (68% and 67% respectively) said they were willing to pay more for foods without undesirable ingredients.

Only 37 percent Taiwan respondents said their dietary needs are fully met by current product offerings. The top 10 “try to avoid” ingredients/attributes are artificial preservatives (79%), artificial flavors (78%); artificial colors, antibiotics or hormones in animal products (both 76%); MSG (74%), artificial sweeteners (73%); genetically modified organisms (70%), food products contained in a package made with BPA (67%); sodium (53%), saturated or Trans Fats (52%). Not to purchase foods and drinks with the above ingredients results from that over four-in-five believe they are harmful to their own, or their family’s health.

“Consumers want to eat in ways that address real dietary concerns, but they can’t do it alone. They need help from food manufacturers to offer products formulated with an eye towards food sensitivities and other specialized diets, as well as retailers to stock shelves with a proper assortment of foods that cater to a wider variety of consumer needs,” said Director Terri Kang of Retailer and eCommerce Vertical, Nielsen Taiwan. In this case, what kinds of food products do Taiwan consumers wish there were provided more on store shelves? All natural (68%), GMO free (59%), no artificial flavors (52%), no artificial colors (49%), as well as organic and low sugar/sugar-free (both 48%) are in Taiwan consumers’ top 5 wish list.

“This is absolutely an opportunity for food retailers and manufacturers; nonetheless, even within individual markets, health and wellness is not a one-size approach that fits all. Retailers and manufacturers need to identify high-potential segments and the drivers of engagements for these consumers before tailoring their messages and products accordingly,” said Kang.

Key drivers of these eating trends include:

Food sensitivities on the rise: More than one-third (36%) of global survey respondents claim that one or more people in their household have an allergy or intolerance to one or more types of foods. The percentage is slightly lower in Taiwan with 29% respondents suggesting so. Dairy or lactose and shellfish allergies are the most common self-reported food allergies or intolerances, each cited by 12 percent of global respondents.

Regional dietary preferences: Dietary restrictions are higher than the average due to both cultural and religious customs in both Africa/Middle East and in Asia-Pacific. More than eight in 10 African/Middle Eastern respondents (84%) follow a special diet that limits their consumption of selected foods, with Halal being the most commonly cited diet (48%). Respondents in Asia-Pacific are also more likely than the global average to state that they follow a special diet (72%), which is more likely to be vegetarian (19% versus 14% globally). Nielsen retail sales data suggests that many North American and European consumers are cutting back on foods that are high in fat, sugar and sodium. Half of North American respondents say they follow a special diet, too, followed by 44% of European respondents.

Food as medicine: Seventy percent of global respondents said they actively make dietary choices to help prevent health issues including obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, or hypertension. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer are expected to account for 73% of deaths globally by 2020, higher than roughly 60% in 2001.

The findings in this survey are based on respondents with online access in 63 countries (unless otherwise noted). While an online survey methodology allows for tremendous scale and global reach, it provides a perspective on the habits of only existing internet users, not total populations. In addition, survey responses are based on claimed behavior, rather than actual metered data. Cultural differences in reporting sentiment are likely factors in the outlook across countries. The reported results do not attempt to control or correct for these differences; therefore, caution should be exercised when comparing across countries and regions, particularly across regional boundaries.

Nielsen Holdings plc (NYSE: NLSN) is a global performance management company that provides a comprehensive understanding of what consumers Watch and Buy. The Company’s Watch segment provides media and advertising clients with Nielsen Total Audience measurement services across all devices where content—video, audio and text—is consumed. The Buy segment offers consumer packaged goods manufacturers and retailers the industry’s only global view of retail performance measurement. By integrating information from its Watch and Buy segments and other data sources, Nielsen provides its clients with both world-class measurement as well as analytics that help improve performance. Nielsen, an S&P 500 company, has operations in over 100 countries that cover more than 90% of the world’s population. For more information, visit