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Long maligned as the worst part of any Nutrition Facts label, fat is finally regaining ground as key ingredient in a healthy diet. Nevertheless, many American consumers still struggle to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy facts.
The Hass Avocado Board (HAB) recently conducted a dietary fats survey of more than 2,000 adults to better illustrate consumer understanding and sentiment toward fats.
“When talking about good fats and bad fats specifically, the confusion out there is pretty pervasive,” says Emiliano Escobedo, executive director of HAB. “We expect that it’s going to take time for consumers to escape and forget the fat-phobic culture that dominated food trends for nearly 20 years.”
Escobedo remembers that when he was in school the food pyramid showed grains down at the bottom as the foods to eat the most of; fats, conversely, were near the top as very small portion of a balanced diet. Today, the pyramid has morphed into a plate comprised of vegetables, fruits, grains, and proteins with a small portion of dairy off to the side. Escobedo also expects more attention to be paid to differentiating between fats in the way that USDA is now promoting.
The results indicated that one in five respondents mistakenly believed trans fats to be healthy. Health-conscious Millennials may have the best intentions to eat more healthy-fat foods—71 percent compared with the 67 percent of the overall population—but they fall short in some areas. Millennials were not as readily able to identify foods containing good fats, and the gap was most marked for salmon (65 percent of Millennials versus 74 percent for the overall population) and olive oil (59 percent versus 69 percent).
“[Millennials] are not necessarily understanding the benefits of good fats, and they’re not quite as adept at identifying which foods contain good fats,” Escobedo says. “The younger consumers tend to eat more avocados and it’s coupled with a good-for-you-message. We ask, ‘What are the reasons why you buy them?’ and good-for-you is really the No. 1 driver of purchase by Millennials.”
One growing demographic, Hispanics, led the way in classifying avocados as a healthy source of fat (73 percent compared with the overall population at 68 percent and Millennials at 65 percent).
As restaurants take a more creative approach to blending cuisines and adding ethnic influences, sources of healthy fats could garner more space on the menu. Ultimately Escobedo says the taste and the versatility of avocados are what have made them a restaurant staple. Some quick serves are riding the wave of avocado popularity and promoting the health benefits, but generally it is not the key selling point.
Consumer knowledge of good-for-you fats might still be hazy, but it is improving. According to the survey, only 36 percent of respondents incorrectly believed all fats affected cholesterol level—down from 42 in 2014.
“In general we know that consumers are confused; they don’t know exactly how to make healthier choices, but we also know that they’re trying,” Escobedo says. “I think that it’s important to continue educating consumers about choosing good fats because at the end that’s going to help us live healthier and better lives.”