More than half of US consumers closely monitor fats and oils in packaged foods according to the results of a study by global agribusiness giant Cargill, which were announced on 29 September.

The FATitudes survey, conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, showed that the rate consumers monitored purchases had remained relatively steady since 2013 when Cargill began its annual study.

“These findings are particularly relevant now given the pandemic-inspired rise in packaged food consumption,” said marketing manager for Cargill’s global edible oils business in North America, Jamie Mavec.

“As consumers weigh the healthfulness of their overall diet, it’s clear that fats and oils are a key part of that equation.”

Cargill conducts its research annually to track consumers’ awareness, perceptions and behaviours around fats and oils found in packaged food. The 2020 study moved to a US consumer focus, unlike the 2019 global consumer focus, and surveyed 560 primary grocery shoppers in May 2020.

One notable change from past surveys was the rise in shoppers’ interest in sustainability claims. In this year’s study, 37% of consumers surveyed said they were more likely to purchase a packaged food product with a sustainability claim, which was a 6% rise compared to last year’s results for US consumers.

Sustainability claims influenced Gen Z and millennial shoppers most strongly, with 45% of Gen Z and 42% of millennials saying they were more likely to purchase a product with a sustainability claim. In comparison, just 32% of ‘baby boomers’ said sustainability claims strongly influenced their purchase decisions.

As in previous surveys, Cargill found consumers tracked fats and oils by closely reading labels on packaged food and what they learnt helped guide their decisions.

A ‘no saturated fat’ claim was found to be the most influential, with 53% of consumers in 2020 saying they were more likely to purchase these products. That exceeded other label claims, including ‘non-genetically modified (GMO)’ and ‘organic’, which were the main considerations for four in 10 consumers (44% and 43%, respectively).

The type of oil and fat used in packaged foods also influenced shopping decisions. The 2020 survey showed that the top five oils with the highest impact on packaged food purchases were olive oil (50%), avocado oil (36%), coconut oil (30%), fish oil (28%), and sunflower oil (25%). This marked a move up the rankings for sunflower oil, which was sixth in the 2019 survey rankings.