Low-calorie content fell way down on the list of factors deemed important for consumers – asked by Mintel – when looking for healthy foods, with fewer than 38% of Brits seeking the attribute, the organisation said.
"Our research shows that consumers do not keep track of their [calorie] consumption and perhaps are not aware of how many calories they should be consuming or even the typical calorific value of foods," according to Mintel senior food analyst Emma Clifford.
More than half (54%) of consumers were looking for the sugar content of their food. This had risen significantly when compared with 2012 data, when just 43% of consumers looked for sugar content.
However, in the past, consumers were more worried about fat than sugar. For example, in 2012, 52% of consumers asked wanted low fat, while this year just 50% searched for the claim.
The food villain
"Historically, fat has been the 'food villain' and the macronutrient that people have been most wary of, relating to its intuitive link to body fat," said Clifford.
"However, the tables have now turned and low sugar has taken the lead over low fat in terms of perceived importance for healthy food, indicating consumers' increased vigilance about their intake of sugar"
- Source: Emma Clifford, Mintel
"However, the tables have now turned and low sugar has taken the lead over low fat in terms of perceived importance for healthy food, indicating consumers’ increased vigilance about their intake of sugar."
Last month, the pub trade hit back at the Local Government Authority's (LGA's) calls for the Government to make calorie labelling on pub menus mandatory.
The LGA wants to see pub chains with 20 or more sites to publish the calorific content of their dishes for consumers to see.
A spokeswoman for the organisation said: "Pub, restaurant and cinema chains need to be displaying calorie counts so consumers and parents have a more informed choice and better understanding of how healthy a particular snack, meal or drink is."
Factor behind obesity
She added: "Food and drink with high-calorie content is clearly a factor behind obesity, and the subsequent health problems it can cause.
"We want the Government to require major retailers to make their customers fully aware of how many calories they are eating and drinking."
Yet, such a demand was unwarranted, many leaders in the sector said. Chief executive of the Association of the Licensed Multiple Retailers Kate Nicholls said calorie labelling would be "extremely difficult and challenging" for businesses that cooked from fresh.
Freshly made meals prepared and sold in many pubs would vary considerably, depending on how and where they were cooked, she added.
"Even for those businesses selling a reasonably standard product across a chain, there may be variations [in nutritional content] and the cost of tracking, measuring and quantifying the calories per dish can be prohibitive. Menu labelling also adds complexity and cost."