As US consumers increasingly make the connection between what they eat and their personal well-being, it appears the food industry is falling short of their expectations, according to a new Field to Fork study conducted by StrategyOne for Edelman, which found that more than half of US grocery shoppers cite processed foods and chemicals in foods as the leading factors that have put America’s food production process on the wrong track.

In the survey, consumers say they hold food and beverage companies accountable for providing some of the solutions, and feel companies fall short of expectations.

For example, 83 percent say they expect companies to provide healthy foods that taste great, but only 50 percent say companies do so; 82 percent say they expect companies to “provide healthy food choices that fit my budget” while just 41 percent say companies do so; and 67 percent say it is important for companies to help solve community nutrition problems such as childhood obesity and hunger, while just 34 percent think companies are currently effective in this regard.

“The data tells us consumers are redefining their relationship with food, looking at health more closely and holistically, and expecting food and beverage companies to do the same,” says Janet Cabot, director of Edelman’s US food and nutrition practice. “So while the industry has made strides in reformulation and wellness initiatives over the years, it is clear to us that the stakes are even higher…that companies are going to have to clearly and effectively demonstrate who they are, what they stand for, and how they are going to get America back on track.”

In addition, the Field to Fork data shows consumers also expect the US government to play a role in creating a healthier food environment by regulating things such as food safety and promoting physical activity. However, the survey indicates people have much less appetite for control over policies that restrict or penalize their personal choices such as taxing certain foods or beverages.

Finally, while technology and access to information have helped people become more “food aware”- not all consumers are seeking the same values and benefits from their foods. This year’s study surveyed a larger population so that segmentation could be conducted to identify differences in consumer attitudes and purchase drivers, which can lead to a deeper understanding of consumer motivations. The segments identified are:

• Food Elites: informed consumer, concerned with every step along the path from Field to Fork.
• Friends of the Farm: Midwestern, typically older male (45+) consumer who supports and champions the role and need for American agriculture.
• Opinion Sharers: Well-educated, high-income consumer who is outspoken and informed about global issues.
• Rule Followers: Middle-aged, middle-income consumer who uses simple rules as a guide to more healthful eating.
• Passive Eaters: Younger (under 35), lower-income consumer who simply doesn’t have the interest to take time to create a meal.
• Kid Influenced: This consumer thrives on the ability to provide food for the family and is more prone to letting children influence purchasing decisions.

According to Jason McGrath, vice president of StrategyOne, “Some are wholeheartedly in support of farmers, while some are most influenced by their families, and others just want a convenient meal when they’re hungry. This information can help guide corporate initiatives as well as policy discussions to ensure the consumer point-of-view is considered.”