Consumers remain wary of functional foods claims

Two surveys have highlighted consumer scepticism toward functional foods. As part of its worldwide survey, ACNielsen asked more than 21,000 consumers in 38 markets whether they purchased foods in nine categories ranging from probiotic yoghurts to cholesterol-lowering spreads to whole grain, high fibre products.

Europeans were more reticent than North American consumers in most categories, but few categories found more than 50 per cent of consumers regularly buying products.

Asked for their reasons for not buying products in each category, a disbelief in the marketed health benefits was cited as the most common justification among US consumers. "There is an opportunity for marketers to position food that has claimed health benefits to be credible and not prohibitively expensive," said Bhawani Singh, managing director of consumer research at ACNielsen Europe.

Taste dissatisfaction also scored highly, with 63 per cent of US respondents saying they steered clear of soy milk for this reason. Other factors were price being too high, lack of availability and perceived lack of quality.

A Datamonitor report found industrial world consumers rejecting functional foods because they don't trust their makers, after trying them and finding they didn't deliver on taste or health benefits. However, the research predicted robust growth if these issues were tackled. The US functional foods market was worth $19 billion in 2004; the Western European market was valued at $4.7 billion.

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