April 8, 2021
Vitamins and Minerals a Vital Priority for Most Americans, But Do We Know Enough About Them?
(Washington, D.C.)—From A to zinc, vitamins and minerals are essential for our overall health. While Americans have clearly internalized their overall importance, a new survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) suggests that there are untapped opportunities to help people get the information they need about those nutrients.
According to the survey, “Consumer Perspectives on Vitamins, Minerals, and Food and Beverage Fortification,” 72% of Americans said they consider specific vitamins at least sometimes (22% consider them always) when choosing what to eat or drink every day, and 65% consider specific minerals at least sometimes (17% consider them always) when making those choices.
General health and wellness was the top reason people look for specific vitamins and minerals, followed by immune health, bone health, and digestive/gut health. Of those who choose vitamins and minerals for their immune benefits, almost half say doing so has become much more important since the COVID-19 pandemic began. An additional 25% say that this priority is at least somewhat more important now.
In terms of which specific vitamins and minerals consumers are looking for, vitamin D (66%) and vitamin C (62%) dominated the list, followed by vitamin B12 (43%), calcium (41%), iron (33%), vitamin A (33%) and vitamin E (32%). The research also found significant differences when comparing age and gender. People age 65+ were more likely to say they frequently seek out vitamin D (89%, vs. 53% of people under 45), calcium (70%, vs. 31% of people under 45) and potassium (45%, vs. 20% of people under 45). In addition, women were more likely to say they frequently seek out vitamin B12 (50% vs. 34% of men) and calcium (48% vs. 33% of men).
Of the consumers looking for vitamins and minerals in their diets, 56% seek them out in the foods they consume, 49% look for them in supplement form and 37% look for them in beverages. Once again, there were demographic differences behind these choices. For instance, people under 45 were more likely to seek out vitamins and minerals in beverages (48%, vs. 16% of people age 65+), while people age 65+ were more likely to look for them in supplement form (66%, vs. 42% of people under 45).
Despite living in an era of technological ubiquity, Americans are decidedly old-school when it comes to how they get information about vitamins and minerals in the products they buy, preferring to simply read the package rather than consulting higher-tech sources. Out of those who are seeking specific vitamins or minerals when shopping, 46% consult Nutrition Facts labels, 41% look at front-of-package nutrition information, 38% consult Supplement Facts labels, 38% read the ingredients list and 33% look at the nutrient content or health claims on packaging. Contrast that with our use of digital sources: Just 21% of consumers get information about vitamins and minerals from food or beverage brands’ websites or social media, 11% consult a QR code on packaging and 11% consult other websites or social media.
“Given the number of smartphones and other devices in use, these results indicate that digital sources of nutrition and ingredient information remain underutilized options for educating consumers,” said Ali Webster, IFIC’s director of research and nutrition communications. “We also discovered that younger, more educated and higher-earning Americans are more frequently using technology to their advantage when making food choices. These groups often already have an edge on their counterparts when it comes to nutrition and overall health, so there’s concern that lack of access to or use of technology might further widen the information gap.”
According to the survey, people with college degrees were more likely to seek out information on vitamin or mineral content on other websites or social media (15%, vs. 8% of people without college degrees). Those earning at least $80,000 per year were more likely to seek out information from other websites or social media accounts (18%, vs. just 9% of those who earn $40,000 to $79,000, and 8% who earn less than $40,000). People 65 years or older were less likely to look for information about vitamin or mineral content from a food or beverage brand’s website or social media (only 1%, vs. 24% of those age 45 to 64 and 25% of those under 45).
Since this survey focused on micronutrients, which are commonly added to foods through fortification, the research also sought to examine Americans’ perceptions around this process. According to the survey, more than one-quarter of American adults said they had never heard of the term. Nearly half had heard of fortification but didn’t know much about it, and only 25% said they were familiar with it and knew at least a fair amount about it.
Of the people who had heard of fortification, most had positive beliefs about many of its attributes: 68% agreed that fortified foods and beverages can be beneficial for health, 65% said fortified foods and beverages are a convenient way to consume more vitamins and minerals, 62% said fortification is a safe way to add vitamins and minerals to products, 60% said fortification plays a role in improving the nutritional value of the food supply, and 59% said that fortifying foods and beverages can increase their nutrient density.
Of those who had heard of fortification, nearly four in 10 said they actively seek out fortified foods or beverages. For these people, fruit and vegetable juices are the most popular source (50%), followed by dairy products (47%), breakfast cereals (46%), protein or meal replacement bars (42%) and eggs (41%).
Interestingly, being informed about fortification slightly increased the likelihood of purchasing a product with a longer ingredient list, a common feature of fortified foods. The research found that two out of five Americans (41%) were more likely to buy a product with a shorter ingredient list versus one that is longer. However, if people were informed that the longer ingredient list was due to the presence of fortified vitamins and minerals, the number of people likely to buy the product with a shorter ingredient list shrunk to 33%, while the percentage of people who are likely to buy the fortified product with a longer ingredient list rose to 67%, up from 59% when the “fortified” detail was not provided. Given these findings and the importance of micronutrients for health, informing Americans about fortification may be a key educational opportunity to help them make healthier food decisions.
Survey results were derived from online interviews of 1,023 adults conducted from March 4 to March 8, 2021, by Lincoln Park Strategies. They were weighted to ensure proportional representation of the population, with a margin of error of ±3.1 points at the 95% confidence level.