This dubious achievement has been affecting the buyer's role in recent years, particularly as the levels of fat, sugar and salt in food - and media coverage and shopper behaviour resulting from these - are concerned. This impact looks set to increase, with rumblings that the Food Standards Agency may force manufacturers to reformulate all processed foods to reduce fat and sugar consumption. The FSA is also said to be considering repositioning low-fat products as category standards lines.
The cost implications and upheaval of such changes have raised the hackles of some supermarket buyers. “It's all very well telling producers to reduce this and cut that, but changes cost money - particularly in production costs and marketing,” says one.
“But apportioning the burden of price increases is going to be a headache.”
Few food and drink categories have escaped health-orientated scrutiny, with indulgence snack areas such as bagged snacks and biscuits seeing the greatest polarisation in consumer eating habits.
Some categories have been able to wave the health credentials flag enthusiastically, while others struggle to convince health-conscious shoppers of its relevance to their territory. Buyers in the former tend to find the media on their side and consumers supportive, while those responsible for the latter operate with a background of constant media and sometimes government criticism.
Products that offer quick, easy and obvious answers to health challenges are benefiting most.
“Raising the profile of health is having a positive effect on sales in some major product areas, particularly mine,” says one yoghurt buyer.
“Organic products, and those with probiotic or other functional benefits are performing really well.”
However, there's a danger in taking health too seriously and letting it obscure other concerns. One buyer warns that health issues shouldn't be overly dominant:
“The health aspect is being pushed up a consumer's list of priorities in making a buying decision, particularly at the impulse end of the market. It is also becoming ever more important in making the buyer's listing decision,” says one.
“But if a product is well-packaged, well-presented, well-marketed and tastes good, the consumer will buy it, whether it is perceived as healthy or not.
“If the product has sufficient impact on shelf and is supported by a good category story telling a shopper why they should buy it, they will make the purchase.”
The potential long-term ramifications of the FSA's reformulation plans aside, buyers are generally stoical about the current health-obsessed climate.
“It doesn't make the job any harder, as such: the natural demands of the job are constant evaluation and re evaluation to keep up with trends,” says one.
Most believe that other issues are starting to compete with health and well-being as major consumer concerns. They point to increased interest in the environment impact of food miles and packaging, as well as ethical issues such as fair trade. Provenance and local offerings are also increasingly under the spotlight.