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Providing perspectives on recent research into vitamins and nutritionals


What Is Important For People When Choosing Food in the Supermarket?

By Julia Bird

When I shop for groceries, I have many considerations when choosing what to buy. I like to eat food that tastes good. I also need quick, easy to prepare meals for weekday nights. On the weekend, I like to experiment, perhaps trying a new recipe that takes a little longer to prepare. Cost can be another consideration; while I don’t mind spending a little more on quality ingredients, I like to make sure I am getting a good deal. I also like to make sure that my meals are healthy and meet the dietary guidelines. These thoughts and others shape the decision making process for everyone when selecting foods for themselves and their families. But which are the most important ones? This is a question that dietitians and food industry professionals ask, whether they are helping people to plan meals to meet a health goal, designing a nutrition intervention, or developing a new product to go on the supermarket shelves. DSM Food Specialties recently conducted consumer research in a diverse range of countries to find out the prominent issues facing consumers when choosing what foods to eat.  

The five countries selected for the survey were the US, China, Nigeria, Poland and Brazil. 5,000 adults aged 18 to 45 and living in key urban areas in these countries were interviewed. The first part of the interview asked participants what they thought made food taste delicious. The strongest reaction was for “fresh or natural” taste, and “tastes as if it were made at home.” There were some differences here by country. China scored highest for “fresh or natural” and the “homemade” taste was valued more highly in the US and Brazil.

There were differences in taste according to whether people tend to check the labels or not. Label-reading can indicate healthier food behaviors, as found by many researchers, including Roseman, Mathe-Soulek and Higgins and Fitzgerald and co-workers. In the current survey, people who read labels regularly showed a stronger preference to “fresh and natural” than people who don’t. Irregular label readers preferred a home-made, stronger and meaty taste compared to regular readers. This might stem from a preference for “clean label” packaging for “fresh and natural” foods.

Pre-prepared foods are very convenient, and can help busy people prepare a meal in much less time than it would take from scratch. Examples can range from tinned or frozen vegetables, pre-chopped fresh vegetables, chilled side dishes, marinated meats, and complete frozen meals. The survey also asked people to consider repeat purchases of pre-prepared foods. The top reason for people to choose a product for the second time was that it was easy to prepare and use, followed by overall flavor. A home-cooked taste, the approval of other family members, price and healthiness were considerably less important choices for consumers. Country-level differences include budget-minded Americans and Chinese consumers, and that Nigerians hold the least regard for other family members’ preferences.

The survey offers insights into the minds of the average person in a diverse range of countries when they make food choices. The idea that consumers are looking for taste and convenience above nutrition seems to ring true here, too (see Glanz). Fresh, natural and a home-cooked taste are the winners here.


DSM Food Specialties. Global Insights Series II – Taste preferences global consumers. !2 September, 2013.

Fitzgerald N, Damio G, Segura-Pérez S, Pérez-Escamilla R. Nutrition knowledge, food label use, and food intake patterns among Latinas with and without type 2 diabetes. J Am Diet Assoc. 2008 Jun;108(6):960-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2008.03.016.

Glanz K, Basil M, Maibach E, Goldberg J, Snyder D. Why Americans eat what they do: taste, nutrition, cost, convenience, and weight control concerns as influences on food consumption. J Am Diet Assoc. 1998 Oct;98(10):1118-26.

Roseman MG, Mathe-Soulek K, Higgins JA. Relationships among grocery nutrition label users and consumers' attitudes and behavior toward restaurant menu labeling. Appetite. 2013 Sep 3. pii: S0195-6663(13)00377-2. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2013.08.019. [Epub ahead of print]