The study, carried out by market research firm GfK, also revealed that factors such as low-salt, organic, low fat or fortified with vitamins or minerals score highly in the minds of the 23,000 consumers surveyed online.
Worldwide, results found 48% of respondents thought products that were low-sugar or sugar-free were “extremely” or “very” important with equal number preferring products free from genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.
Low sodium or low-salt products came third (45%) followed by low fat or no fat (44%), use of local ingredients (38%) and gluten-free (26%).
Findings collated in the summer of this year reveal how shoppers habit have changed in the face of national campaigns to reduce sugar and salt in foods as well as shopper interest in the sustainability credentials of products and their ingredients.
The range of findings in large European countries also give an insight into cultural influences that appear to resonate more so with the country’s citizens.
Italy, for example came top in demanding food that used locally sourced ingredients (49%) compared to The Netherlands (21%) and the UK (30%).
Spain and France, two countries with a rich tradition of using locally grown produce, also fared highly with scores of 40% and 41% respectively. Exactly half of the Spain’s residents also demanded low sugar or sugar-free products.
Interestingly, The Netherlands appeared to be the most easy-going of all nations surveyed with 29% of those surveyed not looking at any of the factors described when making purchasing decisions.
Other worldwide results
Interestingly, the most selective food and drink shoppers were those aged 30-39 years old, with this group nearly always having the highest percentage when it came to rating factors as “very” or “extremely” important.
Similarly, products that were organic, or fortified with vitamins or minerals, as well as pre- or pro-biotics and gluten-free products were found to be more important among shoppers under 40 than the older age groups.
“The Chinese are the most selective on what to eat and drink,” claimed the survey’s authors.
“China comes first in eight out of the nine factors surveyed, for having the highest percentage of people placing importance on that item. The exception is for locally produced products, where Italy takes the lead.”
Age a factor
GfK also found people from high-income households placed a greater importance on all the factors, compared to the lower income households.
Among the high-income households, the most important factors were GMO-free (55%), low sugar or sugar-free (54%) and low sodium or low salt (52%).
Among low-income households, GMO-free and low sugar or sugar-free are also the top two, but mentioned by a significantly lower percentage (44% and 43% respectively).
The third most important factor in this group was organic products and products fortified with vitamins or minerals (41% each).
Gender appeared not to make a difference in how shoppers decide. Men were slightly more likely than women to place importance on local products, fortified products, prebiotic or probiotic and gluten-free, but the difference in each case was only three percentage points.