Add a little, gain a lot: Assessing seaweed's health halo

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

Adding just 5% seaweed to a tortilla wrap can have the same 'health halo' effect as a 100% wrap for Dutch consumers. © GettyImages/szefei
Adding just 5% seaweed to a tortilla wrap can have the same 'health halo' effect as a 100% wrap for Dutch consumers. © GettyImages/szefei
Adding seaweed to a food product can boost consumer purchase intent – and a 5% addition can have the same effect as 50%, Dutch researchers have found.

A study carried out by researchers at Wageningen Economic Research and Wageningen Food and Biobased Research in the Netherlands questioned consumers on how willing they were to buy wraps containing seaweed.

Offering participants a selection of wraps, including a wrap containing 5% seaweed, one with 50%, one made from 100% of seaweed and a kale wrap as a control as it also has healthy associations.

They found that consumers were more willing to buy seaweed wraps than kale wraps.

Interestingly these variations [of 5%, 50% and 100%] did not resulted in different evaluations, showing an indication that more seaweed in your product does not always result in a more positive – or negative – evaluation,”​ senior researcher and senior scientist in consumer behaviour at Wageningen Dr Marleen Onwezen told FoodNavigator.

The pilot study, which used a representative sample of over 600 individuals to evaluate the products, was conducted online but Onwezen said the team was looking to conduct a larger-scale field study with real-time evaluations of taste.

Frame your messages in the right way

They also analysed the type of messaging that accompany products and found that these can affect purchase intent.

Both messages covered healthiness, convenience and taste but were framed in either a cognitive or an emotional way.

“In this way we kept the information as similar as possible though framed the messages in a different manner,” ​said Onwezen. “For example, ‘I feel healthy with this wrap full with vitamins and minerals’, which is emotional versus ‘seaweed wraps are a healthy source of vitamins and minerals’ [which is] cognitive.”

In the case of a cognitive message, the 100% seaweed version received a more negative assessment when it came to aroma, taste and texture than did the hybrid version of seaweed wraps.

“In the case of an emotional message, these negative effects were decreased for the 100% seaweed wraps. This implies that emotional messages decrease the barriers concerning aroma, taste and texture,” ​they said.

The researchers, led by Onwezen, also categorised the participants according to their varying levels of ‘innovation adoption’ – the extent to which the individual is open to new ideas in food – and ‘social norm’ – the individual’s exposure to seeing people eat seaweed in their habitual environment.

Innovation adopters showed a greater willingness to try seaweed, they found.

Consumers generally tend to see seaweed as an eco-friendly ingredient, and manufacturers should focus on this when marketing any seaweed-based products, the researchers said.

“Products consisting of 100% seaweed need the most support in the form of recipes and tips,” ​they added, and while the researchers chose a wrap as the product ‘vehicle’ for seaweed as an ingredient, Onwezen said she would expect similar results for other products.

Wrapping it up

Dutch start-up Seamore, whose seaweed-based portfolio includes 'pasta' and 'bacon' made from whole, unprocessed seaweed recently launched tortilla wraps containing 50% himanthalia seaweed​.​ 

Its CEO and founder Willem Sodderland said he expected the wraps to become the firm's biggest-selling product due to their convenience and accessibility in terms of price, use and taste.

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