What convinces consumers about healthy food messages?

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 4th July 2008

Scientists, educators and marketing experts gathered this week to discuss how consumers influence and receive food-health and food-safety messages at the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans.

The health and wellness trend has been remarkably strong over the past couple of years and, as consumer demand for ‘better for you’ products escalates, the knowledge of how to communicate the healthy food message becomes pivotal.

Nancy Childs, PhD, Professor of Marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia suggests new ingredients and health claims will drive consumers to try a product, but good taste will lead to repeat purchases. “Taste is what it’s all about,” she proclaimed. “The more health-related information and claims that manufacturers present, the more taste assurance the consumer needs.”

The gathering also suggested that consumers respond to positive information – they want to hear about health and wellness rather than disease or deficiencies. Consumers will also look toward price value, as well as a product that will fit into their lives and extend their life experience rather than cause them to “jump” into a brand-new way of seeing or tasting foods.

Flavour variety is also a key with Dr Childs citing the success of Gatorade’s many flavor incarnations maintaining consumer attention for decades.

The other issue with product adoption is that, despite information about the health benefits, some are too stubborn to take it all on board. “People consider themselves knowledgeable already,” said Christine Bruhn, PhD, researcher of consumer attitudes to food quality and safety at the University of California, and IFT spokesperson. “They’ve been doing these things just fine for all these years. They think they’re invincible. ‘Other people get ill, not me’.”

The issue of food safety education is a concern and, while many people search for healthy food options, they don’t help themselves by having a lack of food safety knowledge. “Still they don’t know recommended temperatures (for meats), how to store leftovers, and very few use a meat thermometer. We have to train them on the details,” adds Bruhn.

Speaking to consumers directly and personally, especially through the Internet if the audience is younger than 35 years old, was found to be crucial. “Brands can create communities around which people can solve problems,” Dr Childs advised, while noting that many young mothers network over the Web with health information, providing a great opportunity for health food marketers.