Nutrition continues to drive decision-making in supermarket aisles across the country, according to “Shopping for Health 2012,” the 20th annual survey-based study released by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI), Arlington, Va., and Prevention magazine and published by Rodale Inc.

In the past few years, shoppers have recognized and increased their purchases of foods containing desirable ingredients, including whole grains, fiber and protein. That number continues to grow, the study notes, with 32 percent of shoppers reporting that they are buying more foods based on nutritional components versus last year.

Customers are attempting to make more of their calories count for better overall health, the study reports, with 55 percent of shoppers switching to whole grain bread, 33 percent showing an interest in protein on the label (up 10 points since 2009), and 30 percent switching to Greek yogurt (up 9 points versus 2011).

“More and more shoppers are making the switch to foods with benefits,” said Cary Silvers, director of consumer insights for Prevention. “They are steering away from empty calories and asking, ‘What’s in my food, and how is it good for me?’”

The desire to eat healthier and the stagnant economy appear to be two drivers that have led consumers to do more cooking at home — 57 percent of people surveyed said they tried a new healthy recipe in the last year, an increase of 5 points from 2009, the study notes. Shoppers find recipes through a variety of sources, including the Internet (39 percent), cooking shows (37 percent), magazines (34 percent), cookbooks (33 percent), word-of-mouth (31 percent), recipes on labels (26 percent), culinary magazines (12 percent) and supermarket recipes (11 percent).

With the economy still in a slow growth mode, many of the tactics shoppers started using in 2008 are still in place, the study says, with 63 percent of shoppers reported buying only what they need (down 1 point from last year), and 60 percent switching to store brands (up 6 points from last year). While switching to private label products began as a money-saving tactic, improvements to quality, labeling and promotion have strengthened their position versus national brands, the study says.

Consumers are aware of their options at the grocery store, as 54 percent of respondents recognized the effort of food manufacturers to reduce sodium level in their foods. Sixty-seven percent of shoppers say that sodium is important to them, with 32 percent of shoppers saying that they are buying more low-sodium products versus 2011, the study notes.

“Our food retail members are witness to these trends on a daily basis,” said Cathy Polley, RPh, vice president of health and wellness and executive director of the FMI Foundation. “Just as consumers are increasingly aware of the health-conscious opportunities afforded to them in the grocery aisles, FMI is also renewing its emphasis through its advancements in health and nutrition research and education with its foundation.”

To purchase the study, visit the FMI Store at or call 202-220-0723.