Wim Verbeke (University Ghent, Belgium) reported at the 2nd Feed for Health Conference (Tromsø, June 2010) about consumers’ reactions towards the concept of functional foods and on their interest in different combinations of carrier product, functional ingredient and claims. Specifically, he presented consumer interest in calcium-enriched fruit juice, omega-3 enriched spread and fibre-enriched cereals, each combined with a nutrition claim, health claim and reduction of disease risk claim as specified in Regulation EC (No) 1924/2006.
Cross-sectional data were collected from consumer samples in Belgium in 2001, 2004 and 2006. In 2001 and 2004, consumer reactions towards the concept of functional foods were measured. In 2006, consumers’ reactions to the carrier product, functional ingredient and claim combinations were assessed as perceived convincingness of the claim, credibility of the product, attractiveness of the product and intention to buy the product, while accounting for differences in product familiarity, attitudinal and demographic characteristics.
Belgian consumers were found to be quite sceptical towards the concept of functional foods and to have particular concerns as to whether the products can deliver on their promises. Consumers’ willingness to compromise on taste for health was found to be low and to have decreased over the period 2001-2004.
Generally, health claims outperformed nutrition claims in terms of consumer interest and both of these claim types outperformed reduction of disease risk claims. Comparing consumer reactions across product concepts revealed clear preferences for fibre-enriched cereals as compared to the other two concepts, i.e. preference was in favour of a familiar product with a natural type of enrichment (cereals are believed to be naturally rich in fibre). The interaction effects between claim type and product concept indicated that reduction of disease risk claims are perceived very well in omega-3 enriched spreads, particularly in terms of perceived convincingness of the claim, while not appealing to consumers in the other product concepts. Positive attitudes towards functional foods and familiarity with the concrete functional product category boosted the claim type and product ratings, whereas perceived control over own health and perceiving functional foods as a marketing scam decreased all product concept’s interest scores.
Wime Verbeke concluded: "Our study indicates that whether consumers are interested in nutrition and health claims depends on the claim type and the combined carrier product-nutrient concept. Consumers are least attracted by reduction of disease risk claims, i.e. the most difficult claims to substantiate and get approved in light of the current EU legislation". Click here for the presentation.