Do consumers believe ‘better-for-you’ marketing on snacks?

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The wellness trend is in full swing, in fact, it’s everywhere! From the gut health​ trend, aimed at overall wellbeing, to elimination diets​, designed to identify food intolerances, the concept of ‘food as medicine’ has never been so popular. And where consumers lead, brands quickly follow, resulting in a whole range of products dedicated to improving health in one way or another. These are often referred to as functional foods and they are EVERYWHERE!

But do consumers trust the slew of new products on the shelves and, if not, what can brands do to win them over?

What are functional foods?

Functional foods are foods, which claim to have an additional function, through the addition of particular ingredients. These functions typically relate to the promotion of better health.

The term, functional food, can also apply to traits purposely bred into edible plants, such as purple potatoes, which have been modified to increase anthocyanin.

Do consumers trust ‘better-for-you’ marketing on snacks?

Trust in the food industry has seen a steady decline in recent years, with a recent report from EIT Food Consumer Observatory​, finding that just 46%, of consumers surveyed, trust food manufacturers​. Furthermore, only 44% believe the foods they are consuming, are healthy​.

But likely, the most concerning statistic for the food industry is the fact that 27% of consumers actively distrust food manufacturers​.

Consumer trust is essential to the success of any brand, so the news that consumer trust in the food industry is poor, and continuing to decline, will be make many in the food industry uneasy.

Looking at label - GettyImages-SDI Productions

Many consumers are paying much closer attention to the ingredients list on the back of a product to determine if a product is healthy. GettyImages/SDI Productions

So what about consumer trust in ‘better-for-you’ snacks?

“There is definitely a certain level of confusion and mistrust surrounding nutritional and health claims on packaging,” Dr Sara de Pelsmaeker, group health and wellbeing director of ingredients supplier Puratos, told FoodNavigator. “Seventy-five percent of consumers look for product information on packaging, and in many cases, are also using it to judge how ‘healthy’ the product is.”

And it’s this focus on information displayed on packaging, which is starting to raise questions for consumers, and ultimately, cause issues for manufacturers. Consumers may pick up a product based on the health claims on the front, and then place it back down when they read the ingredients list on the back. This is particularly true when the list of ingredients is longer than five items, as the ‘clean label’ movement gains popularity.

So how is the food industry helping consumers to understand the nutritional value of a product?

What is the ‘clean label’ movement?

Though there is no official definition, ‘clean label’ is the concept of making a product using as few ingredients as possible, and ensuring those ingredients are ones that consumers recognise. These will ideally be ingredients that consumers would themselves use when cooking at home.

How is the food industry improving nutritional transparency?

The food industry is being increasingly regulated and, as a result, health claims must be backed up by facts.

“Front-of-pack labelling is now used by food producers in around 40 countries, either voluntarily or because they are legally required to do so,” explains Pelsmaeker. “These schemes serve two purposes, providing shoppers with more information to make healthier choices and encouraging the industry to develop more nutritionally balanced foods. Better transparency of ingredient lists means brands can no longer rely on the ‘health halo’ of a single ingredient. To help rebalance fat, sugar and salt content, the approach should be a ‘proactive’, health-centred reformulation exercise, to both improve products and restore consumer trust.”

There is also additional certification, which brands can apply, and work to qualify, for. 

“Where confidence may have dwindled, signifiers such as the B Corp certification help maintain trust,” Jackie Wilson, Kallø brand controller at Ecotone UK, told FoodNavigator.

Nutriscore - GettyImages-Viktoriia Ablohina

Nutritional information labelling, such as Nutri-Score, are helping to make the nutritional rating of a product clearer for consumers. It has been recommended for use by the European Union and the World Health Organization. GettyImages/Viktoriia Ablohina

What is the future of ‘better-for-you’ snacking?

Many consumers are making a return to seasonal eating and buying local​, as a means to fully understand the provenance of their food. And it appears this trend is being echoed when it comes to having a better understanding of the contents of the foods they’re eating.

“According to our Taste Tomorrow research, 71% of consumers are more likely to buy from bakeries where everything is made with natural ingredients,” explains Puratos’ Pelsmaeker. “This demonstrates the demand for cleaner label finished goods and more transparency about nutritional information, and the snacking industry must evolve to meet these consumer demands.”

But when products are bought from supermarkets, communication with consumers needs to be clear and concise.

“The future of the food industry needs clear, consistent and visible labelling of ingredients and nutritional profiles to draw consumers to the products they can trust,” adds Kallø’s Wilson.

Governments are also going further to, not only encourage, but work with food manufacturers, to reduce fat, sugar and salt​ levels in foods. But the challenge comes in ensuring those foods are still tasty.

“Ultimately, of course, we’re aiming for healthy snacks that don’t compromise on indulgence,” says Pelsmaeker.

This sentiment is echoed by Kallø’s Wilson. 

“Taste will continue to be a priority to consumers – and something you can’t lose sight of within better-for-you snacks. It will continue to lead innovation with eight out of 10 people looking for new flavours within snacking.”

These developments all represent a step in the right direction, but whether food brands can regain consumer trust remains to be seen. Watch this space!

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