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‘Functional’ terminology confounds consumers

Words like ?nutraceuticals? and ?functional foods? are poorly understood by consumers and often carry negative connotations, according to worldwide research conducted by Florida-based market analyst HealthFocus International.

Consumers are increasingly interested in healthy foods but do not necessarily view functional foods and nutraceuticals as being healthy, if they understood those terms at all. Many reject such terms because they associate functional foods with scientific processes they feel have no place in the food chain.

?If they know the terms at all, ?functional foods and nutraceuticals? are often seen by consumers as being artificial, something created by scientists in a lab,? brand management consultant and Swedish-based European partner at HealthFocus International Peter Wennström told FF&N. ?If you want to communicate product qualities, functional foods terminology can be a barrier.

?There have been attempts by some countries to create their own terminology — in Sweden there is the term ?added-value foods.? But this can add even more to the confusion. Japan has the FOSHU system, but it is for a limited number of products and even Japanese consumers have a low understanding of what FOSHU labels mean.?

Wennström highlighted the opportunities being created for manufacturers by the mainstream shift to healthier eating.

?Companies have tried to create a functional foods category, but it has only served to minimise their potential market,? he said. ?Consumers are interested in healthier foods, not functional foods. So when a cholesterol-lowering spread is introduced onto the market, it may be a functional food as it is known in the industry, but for consumers it is just another segment in the category. It is up to the brand to communicate its health benefits in language the consumers can understand.?

Health concern was recently nominated as one of the 10 megatrends of the decade by Datamonitor. ?The biggest prizes will be found in products that cross over trends: health on the go, such as salad pots, or healthy indulgences, such as Danone?s Actimel,? the UK-based analyst reported.

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