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Novel food ingredients in common products are still largely unknown

London, 17 October 2012

  • Only 9% of UK consumers always read the ingredients on products they buy
  • DHA (38%), Stevia (42%) and Taurine (47%) are the additives with the least awareness

New research conducted by consumer experts Canadean Consumer has revealed that while 32% of UK consumers “often” read the ingredients list on products they buy, only 9% “always” do so. The research also unearthed that 21% of consumers “rarely” or “never” read the ingredients, preventing them from familiarising themselves with less-everyday ingredients including DHA (38% awareness), Stevia (42%) and Taurine (47%). For these ingredients, awareness levels are much higher among consumers who always / often read the ingredients lists on the products they purchase.

Women (44%) are more likely than men (39%) to “always” or “often” read the ingredients list on products they buy; in fact 26% of males “never” or “rarely” read the ingredients list, compared to only 17% of females. This difference implies that women are generally more health conscious compared to their male counterparts, and are specifically using ingredient information as a means of guiding their healthy product choices.

Moreover, the study revealed that consumers from a higher social status are more likely to check ingredients lists always or often (44%) compared to consumers from a lower social status (38%). Canadean Consumer Research Manager Alex Wilman offers one explanation for this: “Consumers from lower social status groups may be less likely to deviate from regular product purchases as a result of tighter budget constraints. When it comes to checking ingredients, consumers are more likely to do so with unfamiliar products. As a result, consumers from higher social status groups may therefore check ingredients more frequently.”

Every day, widely-consumed and talked-about ingredients such as salt, caffeine and olive oil are familiar to virtually all consumers, regardless of whether they check the ingredients list on a product or not. Meanwhile, awareness of newer and more specialist ingredients such as DHA, Stevia and Taurine rely much more heavily on consumers reading labels. Indeed, 48% of consumers who “always” or “often” read the ingredients on packaging are aware of DHA, compared to just 29% of consumers who only “rarely” or “never” check. Similarly, this trend is also seen for Stevia (53% - 36%) and Taurine (56% - 41%).

There is also a notable difference in awareness between the well known Omega-3 (98%) and DHA (48%), a sub-type of Omega-3. Wilman predicts: “With only 9% of consumers always checking the ingredients on products they buy, awareness levels of ‘less-common’ ingredients, like DHA, may stay low. DHA is increasingly being used on the face of product packaging as a key healthy marketing claim, despite many consumers being unfamiliar with the ingredient. Manufacturers and marketing teams may be better off sticking to more well-known terms when making health benefit claims – like “containing Omega-3” for example – or they risk the impact of the ingredients being lost on many consumers – especially among those who do not regularly check a product’s ingredients as a matter of habit.”

Despite this, Wilman believes that it is not essential to a product’s success that all its ingredients are understood: “Red Bull is a huge success despite a majority of consumers claiming to have never heard of Taurine – one of its key ingredients. This goes to show that to some consumers, a product’s overall ethos can mean much more than what actually goes into it.”

Figure 1: % of consumers who have heard of the following ingredients – by ingredient checking habits - UK respondents, n=2,000, 2012

Novel food ingredients in common products are still largely unknown - Figure 1

Figure 2: % of consumers who have never heard of the following ingredients – UK respondents, n=2,000, 2012

Novel food ingredients in common products are still largely unknown - Figure 2

Source: Canadean © Canadean

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