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January 9, 2013
BELGRADE, SerbiaThe expectation of a functional food benefiting one's health is strongly influenced by a person's trust in food labels; however, consumers also expect functional foods to be tasty and pleasant in the sense of enhancing one's mood, according to a new study published in the journal Appetite.
Researchers from the University of Belgrade and IPSOS Strategic Marketing researched the effect of food choice motives, nutritional knowledge, and the use of food labels on consumer attitude towards foods with health claims.
Face-to-face interviews were conducted in the six Western Balkan countries Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Slovenia with a total of 3,085 participants. Each national sample was representative of the population. The questions comprised of a list of food choice motives, nutritional knowledge, trust and use of labels, and attitudes towards functional food.
Different underlying food choice motives influence consumers' attitude toward functional foods with health claims. The most influential motives as identified in European literature are health and natural content, sensory appeal, mood, purchase and preparation convenience, price, weight control, familiarity and ethical concern.
In their analysis, the researchers found that mood, sensory appeal and the perceived health benefit influenced participants' attitude toward a functional food the most. Health benefit also was strongly influenced by trust in claims and familiarity with food labels. Most respondents agreed the use of food labels is beneficial because it leads to a healthier food choice. At the same time, however, they stated that purchase behavior was restricted by time and effort. The interviews showed consumers trust the nutrition information on-pack more than their own nutritional knowledge about what is in the product.
In this study, functional food was generally perceived as positive. The study further revealed functional food is not only associated with health effects, but respondents also linked it to a certain sensory appeal.
Based on the findings, the authors emphasize the importance of the hedonic value of a product (i.e., tasty and pleasant) in communicating the benefits of functional foods. As health effects of functional foods are still perceived as the key feature by many consumers, specific health effects as well as benefits and perceived threats from use should be communicated clearly. The researchers also suggest to consider sensory appeal as a prime motive in food choice.
The study confirms previous findings showing that attitudes toward functional foods are dependent on consumers' knowledge of the specific effect. As the health motive is strongly influenced by trust in labels and familiarity with labels, there should be a common European approach to establish consumer understanding and confidence in food labeling and health claims in particular. Further research could include the analysis of actual consumption of functional foods as well as a wider range of product categories and health claims.
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