WASHINGTON — The cost of food and beverage products is becoming a greater concern for consumers, according to the International Food Information Council Foundation’s “2011 Food & Health Survey.” Although 87% of survey participants consider taste to be their primary reason for purchasing a product, 79% said price impacts their purchasing decision. In 2009, 73% of consumers cited price as a purchasing concern and in 2006 it was 64%.

“The economy seems to be having a significant effect on what people look for when buying food,” said Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice-president of food safety and nutrition for IFIC. “While Americans will almost always choose foods that taste good first, they’re certainly looking for affordable, healthful foods as well.”

The IFIC survey consisted of interviews with 1,000 American adults during March 2011 and April 2011. The research effort addressed consumer perception of issues that affect the food and beverage industry.

For example, the survey also found that fewer Americans are concerned about their weight compared to last year. Fifty per cent of the consumers surveyed described themselves as overweight compared with 57% in 2010. At the same time, fewer consumers reported making dietary changes and more reported that their physical activity levels may be described as sedentary. The number of people who said they are trying to “lose” weight or “maintain” their weight decreased to 69% from 77% in 2010.

“This contradiction may indicate that Americans are being less hard on themselves and less critical of their health and well-being than in past years, despite an environment in which improved health and wellness is increasingly discussed from the media to government to the dinner table,” said Carrie Dooher, director of trends and consumer insights for IFIC. “This would be consistent with current trends toward small indulgences and a shift in perception about food in which consumers are seeking to be empowered rather than educated about food, health and food safety practices.”

Only 9% of the consumers surveyed could accurately estimate the number of calories they should consume in a day for a person of their age, height, weight and physical activity level, and a majority of respondents reported that they do not keep track of calories consumed or burned. Reasons cited for not keeping track of calorie consumption ranged from difficulty to a lack of interest, according to IFIC.

Compared to 2010, this year’s IFIC survey showed no change in consumer concern about their sodium intake. Fifty-three per cent said they are “very or somewhat concerned about their sodium intake,” equal to last year.