The study, published in Food Quality and Preference, looked at whether consumers are deterred from buying organic foods with health claims on the packaging because of a general consensus that functional food is derived from technology-based enhancement, so is not “natural”.
In addition consumers may think of functional foods as coming from large multinational companies, meaning they might reject functional food as being a non-natural, technical and less holistic approach to healthiness, says the study.
Researcher Jessica Aschemann-Witzel and her team therefore decided to examine the preference of German consumers when faced with a variety of organic foods, some showing health claims on the packaging.
The researchers asked 210 consumers to participate in a laboratory purchase simulation in which they were shown packs of organic yoghurt, muesli and spaghetti.
“We chose yoghurt, spaghetti and muesli because these are categories that are or can be potential carriers for ingredients with functional characteristics, but also because these are categories where a variety of brands exists and that are bought by a large share of consumers, both in organic and conventional quality,” Aschemann-Witzel told FoodNavigator.com
For each category, some of the packs showed a nutrition claim, a health claim or a health risk reduction claim.
The claims used echo those already in place outside Germany, for example in Sweden and the US, and included a link between calcium and its effect on bone health, while another promoted fibre for healthy bowels.
The participants were then asked to rank the products on a scale ranging from 1 (least healthy) to 5 (most healthy). They were also asked if they had seen the health claim and whether it had influenced their purchase decision.
Marketing and health claims
The results of the study indicate that organic products and health food claims are not incompatible, as the health claims made no difference to the preferences of the participants who were frequent buyers of organic foods. And the participants who were occasional buyers of organic were actually more likely to go for products with health claims.
“Food marketeers or brand owners can use the research when they consider whether or not to add functional food characteristics to organic food products – our research shows that organic consumers are likely to react positively, especially the occasional organic consumers, which constitute the larger share among organic consumers,” said Aschemann-Witzel.
Aschemann-Witzel pointed out that the survey was confined to Germany, so researchers can only speculate whether the results would be similar in other countries. However, the differences are not likely to be great, she said.
Source: Food Quality and Preference
‘Are organic consumers preferring or avoiding foods with nutrition and health claims?’
Authors: J. Ascheman-Witzel, N. Maroscheck, U. Hamm.