Clean label survey shows consumers prefer GM to bad breath

By Ben Bouckley

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Leatherhead food research Preference E number Guar gum

Some consumers perceive healthy food ingredients such as garlic more negatively than traditional poorly perceived additives such as GM, according to a top UK food research organisation.

Leatherhead Food Research asked 50 EU consumers which ingredients they did not​like to see on ingredient lists, and while traditional baddies such as E-numbers scored highly (22 said they disliked their presence) as did artificial colourings (12), garlic (3) was a surprise inclusion.

Garlic’s image problem

Cindy Beeren, head of sensory & consumer science at Leatherhead, said: “Garlic is a natural ingredient with widely reported health benefits (such as playing a role in preventing cardiovascular disease…and containing compounds ​[with] anti-bacterial, anti-thrombotic and anti-cancer activities ranked higher than GM ingredients.

“For all the reported fear of the implications of GM, does a fear of bad breath, or possibly the strong taste of this ingredient outweigh the health benefits?”

Leatherhead’s survey data shows that, when the 50 subjects selected reasons for buying food, 46 said taste was crucial, while price (36) and health aspects (33)​also scored highly.

Nonetheless, Beeren said the garlic anomaly showed that consumers often prioritise buying choices “instinctively”​, where ‘clean label’ products in particular have problems of definition, because consumer understanding of natural and healthy ingredients is likely to differ from that of scientists.

Labels a help or hindrance?

Beeren said this raised further questions as to whether food labels “help or hinder”​ consumers understanding, given so many other key messages thereon: information on everything from fair trade to food miles and fat free made clean label hard to define.

“With all this to consider, as well as balancing preference, health and price with media influence, it makes it extremely complex to evaluate products," ​said Beeren. "Consumers need to prioritise their choices, in many cases instinctively. So, what do they put first?”

Leatherhead has since undertaken a further 2010 study with 306 UK respondents that included more ingredients, where according to Beeren the “extremes of preference bore no real surprises”, ​with the ‘least preferred’ high salt, high fat, chemical ingredients and artificial colouring.

But Beeren noted some interesting points that arose from the survey, with 30 per cent of respondents indicating that they did not want to see potassium chloride in products, given strong links between sodium intake and heart disease.

Said Beeren: Other ingredients that had potential image problems included carotenoids and some of the gums, such as xanthan and guar. These were the least well-known amongst the same population, with over 50% never having heard of carotenoids and xanthan gum.”

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