Foritified foods

Functional food and drinks: “fortified” claims missing the target?

The “noughties” was very much the decade in which functional food rose to prominence. Subtle shifts in formulation and marketing began to emphasise what was added rather than reduced. Conventional wisdom is that consumers cannot get enough of fortification, but is that really the case, asks Mark Whalley, head of Food and Drink at Datamonitor?

In fact, Datamonitor Consumer’s latest 2015 research reveals that there is an overwhelming preference for nutrients that occur “naturally”, as opposed to being the result of “fortification”. Globally (ie across the 25 markets surveyed across the developed and developing world), 92% of consumers find the former to be “appealing,” compared to 71% for the latter.

Geographically, there is little difference in attitude towards natural nutrients – this is very much a global phenomenon. Intriguingly, however, evidence suggests Europeans are divided on the palatability of fortification. While globally the difference between consumers who find the concept appealing (71%) and unappealing (26%) is 45%, this gap closes significantly in the likes of France (19%), the Netherlands (14%), and Sweden (3%). Most striking, though, is Germany, where 7% more consumers responded in the negative.

The appeal of “natural” endures regardless of age, gender, and income. Although older consumers are more skeptical of fortification, attitudes towards “natural” remain relatively consistent, whether the consumer is 18 or 80. Ditto males and females. The data do state that the strength of clamor for “natural” increases the further up the income scale consumers go, implying that the juiciest price premiums can actually be charged for quality “naturals” rather than functionals. High end retailers would do well to bear this in mind.

What is more, the paradigm looks to be shifting further. Fortified products may find themselves increasingly under threat from products formulated with the “lowest number of ingredients possible”.

An extension of the “natural” food and drink movement, plenty of examples of products building a brand image around this concept can be found from ready meals through to lager. Consumers report that this claim is only 1% less appealing than fortification – and it is actually more appealing in the most developed economies, middle income groups and among seniors.

Why might all this be? The easiest theory is that the word “fortification” sounds a lot like concepts such as “genetically modified,” which continues to endure a poor perception among the masses. The automatic assumption that what is toyed with is made impure – even dangerous – acts as a limiter. It is easy to forget that ingesting food and drink is an intimate act, something that requires trust on the part of the consumer.

Beyond this, however, one explanation is that fortified products have become such a part of mainstream food and drink culture that consumers no longer recognise them as being different from the basic version. Breakfast cereals, for example, are so commonly fortified that it is easy to see how consumers overlook this. Nowhere is this mindset more apparent than in Japan, which as the pioneer of functional products has given its population the longest period of time to adapt. Consequently, the Japanese view of what is “functional” stretches well beyond that of consumers in many other countries.

Moreover, the ongoing publication of contrasting research often leaves consumers perplexed and conflicted. The more they read about the virtues and/or perils of particular ingredients and food types, the less they feel they truly understand. Perceptions of ingredients improve and decline, sometimes in cycles. Little wonder, then, that more than a third of global consumers report being confused by which food and drinks are actually healthy.

So what happens next, and what does this mean?…….

Datamonitor: Read the full article