New Food Choices Free of Trans Fats Better Align U.S. Diets With Health Recommendations
by Ilya Rahkovsky
, Stephen Martinez
, and Fred Kuchler
Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-95) 39 pp, April 2012
What Is the Issue?
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the Federal Government's
quinquennial assessment of the linkage between diet and health,
provides science-based advice on diet and physical activity to
promote health and reduce the risk of major chronic diseases. In
2005 and 2010, that advice included the recommendation that
Americans minimize their intake of trans fatty acids. While it is
technically feasible to meet this goal, meeting the goal depends on
consumers' willingness to make dietary changes to restrict intake
of trans fats. As long as consumers are not averse to consuming
food products containing trans fats, there are fi nancial
incentives for food manufacturers to continue using trans fats.
Trans fats extend product shelf life and are cheaper than
The Federal Government has tried to create incentives for food
manufacturers to reduce their use of trans fats. Federal dietary
guidance provides consumers with information about the hazards of
trans fats, and Federal food labeling regulations began requiring
the identification of trans fats on Nutrition Facts panels in 2006.
In this report, we examine whether food manufacturers are:
• reducing trans fats in foods in
response to these changes.
• using trans fats-free claims on package labels as an advertising
vehicle to inform consumers and increase sales.
• producing healthier foods.
What Did the Study Find?
Most new food products contain no trans fats or do not contain
enough to require reporting trans fats on the Nutrition Facts panel
(together described here as products free of trans fats). Further,
trends over recent years show that trans fats content in food
products has been falling.
• In addition to labeling trans fats
content on the Nutrition Facts panel of newly introduced foods,
manufacturers have voluntarily highlighted the absence of trans
fats on the front of food packages.
- Food product introductions displaying package claims about the
absence of trans fats began appearing in substantial numbers in
2004 and increased every year through 2009.
- The two categories of foods where front-of-package statements
appear most frequently are foods that had substantial trans fats in
the past (bakery products, prepared meals, and desserts) and in
foods that are nearly free of trans fats (baby food and
- Most new foods that contain no trans fats do not make package
claims about the absence of trans fats.
• To calculate success rates of new
products, products were deemed successful if available in at least
1 percent of the stores in our sample. Success rates for new
products that contain trans fats have been about the same as for
products that do not contain trans fats. However, success rates for
products that are free of trans fats and that also carry the "no
trans fats" front-of-package statement have been higher than for
trans fats-free products that lack the "no trans fats"
• New products without trans fats,
including those that have front-of-package statements and those
that do not have them, are likely to be lower in calories, sodium,
and saturated fats than those containing trans fats. This suggests
that food companies, when reformulating products to avoid trans
fats, are generally substituting healthier ingredients for trans
How Was the Study Conducted?
Using the Mintel Global New Products Database, we compared the
average trans fats content of new food product introductions across
18 general food categories from 2006 to 2010. For fi ve categories
displaying the highest trans fats content, the average annual trans
fats content from 2005 to 2010 was also tracked, where data from
2005 were lower bound estimates. Growth in all new food product
introductions with a "no trans fats" claim from 2000 to 2010 was
examined. Researchers also compared the extent to which "no trans
fats" claims were used on product packages for the 18 food
categories and several subcategories from 2004-the first year when
a sizeable number of new food product introductions contained "no
trans fats" claims-to 2010.
Mintel data were also aligned with data from SymphonyIRI Group
(formerly Information Resources, Inc.), which tracks monthly retail
sales. The combined data set allowed comparisons between success
rates of new products with and without trans fats from 2006 to
2010. Among products free of trans fats, success rates for those
that had a "no trans fats" claim were compared with those that did
not. Information from each new product's Nutrition Facts panel was
used to compare the per-serving nutrient content (sodium, sugar,
saturated fat, and calories) of products containing trans fats with
those that did not contain trans fats. For new products that were
eligible to make "no trans fats" claims, nutritional comparisons
were also made between products that made the claim versus those
that did not make the claim.