By Jenny Splitter
Food companies have a difficult tightrope to walk when they develop a new product. Do they choose the best-tasting ingredients, or should they opt for the healthier ones? The answer can be complicated because it all depends on the consumer. What do they value? How do they perceive the ingredient? Some consumers prize taste over everything else, but others are willing to sacrifice some amount of tastiness for what they perceive as health benefits, says self-described marketing geek Mark Cornthwaite, during his FIRST session, “The Food ‘X’ Factor: How Ingredient Perceptions Allied to Consumer Sentiment Drive Product Development and R&D.” For companies looking to develop a new food product or revamp an existing product, understanding consumers and their perceptions is critical.
If you’re marketing to consumers who value taste over all else, choosing ingredients can be an easy proposition. Just look for whatever tastes best. But there may be a good business reason to target the healthy-preferring or “healthwise” consumers. According to Cornthwaite, these customers are willing to pay a significant markup for their food. “There’s real money to be made,” he says.
Figuring out which ingredients are more healthful and natural sounding are where things can get a little bit tricky. Other than high fructose corn syrup, which is widely regarded by consumers as artificial and unhealthy, most ingredients will provoke a wide range of reactions. For example, in Cornthwaite’s 2017 study of consumer preferences, 60% of consumers perceived soy protein as “natural,” whereas 14% perceived it as “artificial,” and 26% were unsure. In a 2019 survey, 41% felt tapioca starch was “natural,” yet 22% thought it was “artificial,” and 37% were unsure. The addition of certain words can shift a consumer’s perception too. When you add words that suggest processing like “textured” or “concentrate” to ingredients, customers tend to regard that ingredient as less natural.
Product developers should approach revamping an existing product differently, advises Cornthwaite. Customers looking at an ingredient label for white bread in a survey conducted by Cornthwaite were more likely to trust the ingredients on the label because white bread is a product they know very well, even if a particular ingredient wasn’t familiar. But the reverse is also true. If a product is already perceived as unhealthy, swapping the ingredients for “cleaner” or more natural-sounding ingredients is unlikely to persuade consumers in the healthy group to start buying that product. The bottom line: Pay close attention to who your customers are and how they perceive ingredients. It will pay off in the long run.
Jenny Splitter is a freelance science journalist based in Washington, DC.
The editors at Food Technology magazine, published by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT), have announced their predictions for the hottest food trends for 2022.
While canning is commonplace today, for that generation of food technologists it was a paradigmatic example of the power of science to change food for the better.
In October 2021, the FDA released new voluntary guidance on sodium reduction with the overarching goal of reducing consumption by 12% over the next two-and-a-half years.
What changes have occurred in the way Canadians perceive cannabis since it was legalized there in 2018? How do Canadian and U.S. consumers of cannabis and edibles compare?
Functional and upcycled ingredients, global flavors, plant-based alternatives, fun mash-ups, and portable solutions wake up traditional breakfast CPGs.
An update on the trends in healthy snacks and the ingredients used in formulating them
This column describes top niche food and beverage categories with recent high sales gains.
Hot new products include meatless steak strips, natural hummus snacks, and plant-based meat for burgers, meatballs, and breakfast patties.
IFT responds to scientific questions to be examined to support the development of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Specifically, “What is the relationship between consumption of dietary patterns with varying amounts of ultra-processed foods and growth, size, body composition, risk of overweight and obesity, and weight loss and maintenance?”
Discover what the team behind IFT’s Global Food Traceability Center is working on, including recent events, research projects, and advocacy efforts
In an effort to provide the science of food community with actionable information that can be used in their own DEI efforts, IFT shares a case study of its recent effort to increase accessibility and inclusivity in its scholarship program.
What's on the horizon for the global food system in 2022? IFT’s Science and Policy Initiatives team gives their predictions on five trends that are expected to take shape in the new year.