Survey reveals when functional food beats supplements

By Lorraine Heller

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Dietary supplements, Nutrition

Consumers around the world are more likely to address some health conditions via foods, while preferring dietary supplements for others, find a new survey.

According to global research by Ipsos Marketing, food and beverages rival supplements when it comes to digestion, energy, weight and blood sugar levels.

However, dietary supplements were by far the most popular option for benefits linked to immunity, brain health, bone and joint health, cancer prevention, hormonal balance and eye health.

Established health links

The key differentiation, according to Ipsos, comes down to consumer awareness of well-established health links, which is what prompts them to go for foods above supplements.

“The data suggests that consumers are most interested in health and wellness products in which there is already an established connection between the product and the benefit,”​ said Lauren Demar, CEO of the global consumer goods sector at Ipsos Marketing.

“For example, there is already a connection with food and beverage products and benefits related to digestion, increased energy, weight loss and healthy blood sugar levels (corresponding to diabetes management) – therefore, consumers are more open to using food and beverages that offer these advantages.”

Opportunity for growth

However, Demar added that food and beverage firms should not feel constrained to offer only benefits that consumers immediately understand and believe.

“Consumers can be educated through advertising, packaging, and testimonials about health and wellness benefits. For instance, many food companies have successfully educated their customers about how their products can reduce the risk of heart disease or cancer – a fact that may not have been immediately obvious to many consumers.”

The survey, which tracked responses from 21,623 adults in 23 countries, also identified a mid-way category of health conditions, which people are more likely to address with supplements but which still held “substantial”​ interest in the food sector.

These were heart health, cancer prevention and immunity benefits, which most people would first turn to supplements for, but with one third of survey respondents also saying they would consider foods or beverages in these categories.

According to Ipsos, its research indicates that food and beverage firms may benefit from looking to the supplement category for “important clues to which benefits are on the lading-edge”.

“As we can see from the data collected in our survey, consumers express strong interest in using products associated with better immunity, increased brain power and memory, and bone and joint health – making these strong innovation platforms for tomorrow,”​ said Demar.

The countries that participated in the survey were: Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, Russia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States and Turkey.

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