Functional And Fortified Foods Confuse People
While adults want to eat healthfully, confusion about fortified foods -- and particularly “functional” foods -- is common, according to a new qualitative study from iModerate Research Technologies.
The research -- consisting of online and one-on-one conversations with 81 women and men ages 18 and older from the Northeast, Midwest, South and West -- focused on perceptions of these foods, and the purchasing drivers and barriers.
Functional foods were defined as fruits, vegetables and other foods that naturally contain biologically active compounds that provide clinically documented health benefits, like antioxidants.
Overall, the research found that consumers’ knowledge of their own nutritional needs is “spotty at best.”
For instance, people know that functional foods are the healthiest choices, but most don’t know “how eating specific fruits and vegetables correlates to their bodies’ need for nutrients.”
In addition, they say that a lack of information on practical ways to prepare and incorporate these foods in their busy daily lives is a major barrier.
People confirmed that media including Web sites, medical talk shows and news reports are important sources for more general information on healthy eating. However, “they don’t just want to know that they should eat leafy greens, or that spinach is nutrient-rich; they want real information and practical advice about how to make Swiss chard a little less difficult to choke down,” sums up the report.
People said they feel better informed about foods fortified with vitamins and other nutrients -- in no small part because of packaged food makers’ advertising, combined with packaging messaging that “reminds” them of a product’s fortification/health claims at point-of-purchase. (In contrast, fresh produce is “virtually never advertised on TV,” notes the report.)
The upshot: Consumers tend to view fortified foods as “a more attainable, realistic approach to healthy eating” than functional foods.
However, they have concerns about both fortified and functional foods -- and these differ quite a bit.
When it comes to fortified foods, people expressed concerns about whether the processes involved in fortifying foods and making them shelf-stable could have long-term health effects. They also cited concerns about whether fortified foods are as healthy as they claim to be, from a nutritional standpoint -- whether reliance on such foods will lead to nutritional gaps in their diets. In addition, a few expressed concern about the possibility of “OD-ing on” or over-consuming certain nutrients.
With functional foods, the major barriers are the time and labor involved in preparation; taste perceptions (preference for “tasty and familiar” foods); the intimidation factor (how to prepare “strange” nutrient-rich foods like fresh eggplant and fennel); and cost and spoilage.
On the cost/spoilage front, “although functional foods may have a lower sticker price than some of the more processed foods available, the real sticker shock usually comes from consumers’ near-certainty that these foods will spoil in their refrigerators,” explains the report. “This worry isn’t just based on the fact that fresh produce simply doesn’t have the shelf life of, say, instant mashed potatoes. Rather, it stems more from consumers’ concerns that no one in their house will choose to eat these foods before they go bad.”
IModerate stresses that there are significant opportunities for food growers, food manufacturers and retailers in “taking the guesswork” out of healthy eating.
The researcher’s recommendations include providing more specific, relatable messages conveying how products’ nutrition and health benefits contribute to consumers’ daily nutritional/dietary needs; giving consumers reasons to learn more about particular foods/products; providing easy, tasty recipes; and improving labels and signage.
A free summary PDF of the report can be downloaded, with registration, from iModerate’s site.