“That consumers distinguish between different types of fat is nothing new. However, that the majority of consumers also recognised that there is a difference between various carbohydrates was a surprising finding for us,” said Gudron Dold, consumer insights manager at BENEO - the ingredients firm that commissioned the new research.
The survey was designed to provide insight into the role healthy nutrition plays in today’s lifestyles, with a particular focus on perceptions of sugar, carbohydrate and the impact foods have on blood sugar levels.
The findings showed that consumers are aware that sugar and carbohydrates have a major role in managing health issues, such as weight management, fatigue or low energy.
Seven out of ten Europeans try to limit or cut down their sugar intake because of its negative health effects. Despite seeing the benefits of eating less sugar, consumers also recognised that carbohydrates are the major energy source for the body; 46% of participants stated that their main reason for consuming carbohydrates was that they ‘give energy’.
All carbs not created equal
However, the study revealed that consumers were starting to differentiate between carbohydrates.
“In former times, the focus was only on the amount of carbohydrates, whereas now we see that increasingly, the quality of carbohydrates also matters to consumers,” said Dold.
Wholegrain, fibre, complex carbohydrates and slow release carbohydrates were seen as ‘good’, with 60% of respondents linking slow release carbohydrates with sustained energy.
“When consumers talk about good carbohydrates they are looking for quality carbohydrates that provide nutrients and energy needed by our body to keep them nourished and satisfied. In contrast, ‘bad’ carbohydrates are considered empty calories that consumers want to avoid,” explained Dold.
‘Naturalness’ is another attribute that determines whether a carbohydrate is ‘good’ in consumers’ eyes, with many believing that carbohydrates from natural sources are better for them, according to BENEO.
Implications: Slow and natural to win the race?
A growing consumer understanding of carbohydrates has implications for the food industry, making it more important for manufacturers to consider the attributes of the carbohydrates they use. Dold predicted that going forwards, we would see a drive towards natural source slow release carbohydrates.
“The basic understanding among many consumers that slow release carbohydrates are the healthier choice is key. We expect that slow release carbohydrates from natural sources will increase in importance when developing new food and beverage products,” she said.
The findings play into the hands of BENEO’s slow release carbohydrate Palatinose (isomaltulose), chicory root fibres Orafti inulin and oligofructose, and sugar replacer ISOMALT. Naturally derived from beet sugar, these ingredients have a mild, sweet taste, the company says they meet consumer desire for sugar-like indulgence whilst reducing high glycaemic sugars or calories.
BENEO has received positive EFSA opinions for the blood glucose lowering properties of its inulin and oligofructose dietary fibres, as well as for Palatinose and ISOMALT.
5000 consumers across five European countries - UK, Germany, Spain, France and Poland - were invited to take part in a quantitative online survey conducted by consumer research agency Insites. The participants were aged between 18 and 70 years, and were identified as having household responsibility for grocery shopping.