The study, published in Food Policy, presents the results of a choice experiment conducted to examine how the inclusion of functional ingredients affects consumer attitudes towards bread.The researchers reported that whilst consumers are willing to pay for breads with clear direct health benefits—such as whole grains—functional ingredients with less obvious health benefits—such as prebiotics—are less attractive.
“Bread consumers consider, the type of flour used for the production of bread, price, texture, taste and aroma and perceived healthiness as they key product attributes,” said the researchers, led by Michael Bitzios from the University of Kent, UK.
“Our consumer choice results indicate that consumers are willing to pay for a bread product that contains functional ingredients but they have stronger preference for bread that offers a simple but clear health benefit,” they said.
Bitzios and his colleagues noted that advances in food technology and nutritional sciences have seen many new food products developed and marketed, offering increased health benefits and the potential to reduce the risk of diseases – many of which are labelled as ‘functional foods’.
“The market for functional foods is growing rapidly and bakery products appear to offer an obvious market opportunity for food manufacturers,” they said.
According to the authors, despite a lack of precision in defining what a functional food actually is, the market globally has been estimated to be worth tens of billions of dollars.
They noted that although consumers have accepted many forms of functional food, there is evidence that consumers differ by the extent to which they buy food products with explicit functional properties.
“In the case of bakery products such as bread, there is little difficulty including functional ingredients, but whether this can be achieved in a manner which yields a product which meets consumer demands is unclear,” they explained.
“Simply relying on consumers to adopt functional food for health benefits, if the products in question have been compromised in terms of taste, is highly unlikely,” they added.
The new study investigated consumer attitudes and preferences for purchasing bread which includes the functional ingredient inulin—a prebiotic functional ingredient which is non-digestible and is assumed to have a positive impact on various bacteria in the colon.
Bitzios and his team reported that bread type is a major factor in determining choice, and that the inclusion of a functional ingredient yielded relatively small measures of value.
They added that respondents have a stronger preference for a simple health statement compared to, or in addition to, the implied benefits that result from consuming a functional food product.