The study – published in Food Hydrocolloids– explores consumer perceptions of food additives, focusing particularly on hydrocolloid thickeners, finding that such ingredients have strong potential in terms of increasing ‘value added’ of products by informing consumers on the natural origins of such ingredients.
Led by Susana Fiszman of the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology, Spain, the researchers surveyed a total of 140 consumers aged between 22 and 60 years of age – revealing a strong association between the idea of ‘industrially processed’ foods and additives/thickeners.
Whilst the study suggested that hydrocolloid thickeners, as a result, are often associated with ‘processed foods’, the researchers also reveal that consumer perception of risks associated with thickeners is low.
They added that hydrocolloids also have ‘good prospects’ in terms of potential marketing to consumers due to their natural origin in familiar sources – “which are ‘cleaner’ in the consumers' eyes.”
“With the increasing competitiveness of the world food market, consumer demand has become more fragmented, heterogeneous and dynamic,” said Fiszman and her colleagues. “As a result, many food industry sectors compete not only on efficiency and quality control but also by increasing the value added to their products.”
“Now is the time for manufacturers to make a move to inform consumers about the natural sources of the hydrocolloids they use and explain how they are obtained and why they are necessary: these, among others, are points that add up in favour of their use without eliciting negative perceptions.”
Fiszman and her team explained that adding value is a consumer-oriented concept: “Consumers need to know about it, knowledge will make them feel closer to the product and the perception of low risk will allow them to make a responsible choice.”
“Hydrocolloids are used in food products to thicken, gel and/or stabilise; but it would be very useful to remind or tell consumers that hydrocolloids help during manufacturing processes (improving textures and giving better product behaviour during packing), increase shelf life (preventing crystallisation and syneresis or improving freeze/thaw stability) and preserve product properties during heating or microwaving.”
They added that with marketing requests for ‘clean label’ formulations are steadily increasing, , it will become important that consumers are given more information on the sources, processing and uses of hydrocolloids.
They added that future communication on additives in food could also be targeted at shifting consumer attitudes away from the perception that ‘synthetic equals dangerous’.
“If consumers who have strongly negative attitudes towards chemicals no longer equated synthetic with toxic and natural with safe, consumers would be able to judge food hazards more appropriately,” said Fiszman.
“The good news is that, in general, all these points are easily within reach for food hydrocolloids.”
Source: Food Hydrocolloids
Volume 30, Issue 1, January 2013, Pages 477–484, doi: 10.1016/j.foodhyd.2012.07.001
“Exploring consumers' knowledge and perceptions of hydrocolloids used as food additives and ingredients”
Authors: P. Varela, S.M. Fiszman