Functional foods enriched with ingredients perceived as healthy are an area of keen interest for the food industry, but a proportion of products launched each year are subsequently withdrawn from sale as consumers are unwilling to try them.
Previous research has suggested that carrier products for functional ingredients should be healthy in their own right – but other studies have indicated that healthy ingredients can make less healthy products more attractive to consumers.
In the new study, accepted for publication in the Elsevier journal Food Quality and Preference and published online ahead of print, researchers from Aarhus University set out to test three main hypotheses:
- The higher the perceived fit between carrier food and ingredient the stronger the intention to buy the functional food
- Perceived fit of carrier food and ingredient is determined by healthiness of the carrier food, naturalness of occurrence of the ingredient in the carrier food, familiarity with the combination, and expected taste of the ingredient when added to the carrier food.
- Attitude to functional foods and health concern will be positively related to the intention to buy the functional food, but their effect will be weaker than the effect of perceived fit.
The first and the third hypotheses were tested with a survey of 1750 Danish consumers, who were recruited by telephone in December 2005 and paid €35 for completing a questionnaire which was subsequently mailed to them.
The questionnaire included a grid which listed carrier foods in columns: yoghurt, muesli bars, fish balls, tuna salad, baby food, rye bread and bacon liver pate. The rows were ingredients: omega-3, fish oil, vitamins, minerals, plant sterols and fibre. The respondents were asked about perceived fit of the products and ingredients, and their intention to buy those combinations.
In-depth interviews were conducted with 22 respondents on their general attitudes towards functional foods, and their views on health concerns were measures with a request to assess seven kinds of health risk: getting sick in general, cardiovascular disease, stress, obesity, diabetes, cancer and arthritis.
The second hypothesis, was tested by asking 20 food experts (with a PhD in nutritional science) from Danish nutritional institutions to fill in a questionnaire with four sets of questions. The carrier product-ingredient combinations were rated on familiarity to the market, taste, overall quality, and perceived healthiness.
The researchers found that the perceived fit between ingredient and carrier product was a stronger predictor of purchasing decision than health concern and overall attitude to functional foods.
“The results imply that perceived fit of different carrier-ingredient combinations should be viewed as a major factor of product success when developing functional foods, which suggests that poorly perceived combinations should be avoided,” they concluded.
The best performing combinations were fish balls and tuna salad containing either omega-3 or fish oil.
For yoghurts, vitamins and omega-3 were seen to be the most suitable ingredients; in muesli bars vitamins and minerals were seen as the best fits, and in baby foods vitamins, minerals, and omega-3.
Consumers also seemed to be more comfortable with combinations that have been on the market for some time, seeing them as a better fit. For example, rye-bread and omega-3 were seen as a good fit, and purchase intention was higher.
“The results also indicate that consumers tend to perceive a better fit if the carrier product is, from an expert point of view, categorised as healthy.”
Food Quality and Preference, article in press
Perceived fit of different combinations of carriers and functional ingredients and its effect on purchase intention
Authors: Rasa Krutulyte, Klaus G. Grunert, Joachim Scholderer, Liisa Lähteenmäki, Kit S. Hagemann, Peter Elgaard, Brian Nielsen and Jens Peter Graverholt