What Matters Most To Consumers?

May 21, 2015

Taste, price and healthfulness.

Originally published in Food, Nutrition & Science.

Taste is once again king when it comes to the most important factors for consumers when making food and beverage purchase and consumption decisions. The 10th annual International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation Food & Health Survey, released on May 12, 2015, found that as has been the case every year throughout the survey’s 10-year history, the most important factors for consumers are taste (83%), price (68%) and healthfulness (60%).

Aside from taste, price is the most important factor in food and beverage purchasing and consumption decisions. Furthermore, for 40 percent of consumers, affordability is a top-valued benefit of processed foods. Half of Americans (51%) acknowledge that, if processed foods were hypothetically removed from the food supply, foods would cost more. Lower-income Americans are most concerned about potential cost impacts if processed foods were removed from the food supply. In terms of barriers to staying on track with weight management efforts, more than one-quarter of consumers (26%) say that “cost of food, weight loss programs, or gym memberships” is an obstacle. 

Meanwhile, biotechnology is still an ongoing conversation for consumers. The 2014 Consumer Perceptions of Food Technology Survey, which looks at consumer awareness, perceptions, and behaviors around plant and animal biotechnology and sustainability, found that “ensuring an affordable food supply” is Americans’ second most important factor of sustainability (45%), and four in ten consumers (41%) cited “keeping food prices stable” as a benefit for which they think food biotechnology can play a role. But consumers do want to understand more about the technology and how it benefits them.

“We found that when consumers were given examples of nutrition and environmental benefits of food biotechnology, such as eliminating trans fat, providing more healthful fats like Omega-3s, and reducing pesticide applications, they were more favorable toward the technology than when they were asked without this context,” says Lindsey Loving, Senior Director, Food Ingredient & Technology Communications, IFIC.

Interestingly, Americans rank “feeding a growing global population” among the most important factors of sustainability, with 43 percent ranking it in the top three. This differs somewhat from the Center For Food Integrity (CFI) survey findings on a related topic. In addition, nearly four in ten Americans would be in favor of using food biotechnology to “help feed undernourished people around the world,” indicating that consumers are receptive to talking about solutions to the growing problem of global hunger. 

The Food & Health Survey also provides some insight into how consumers prioritize certain aspects of healthfulness. When asked about their efforts to choose more healthful options in their lives, 82 percent report trying to eat more fruits and vegetables; 76 percent say they are cutting calories by drinking water or low-/no-calorie beverages; 70 percent are eating more foods with whole grains; 69 percent are cutting back on foods that are higher in added sugars; and 68 percent are consuming smaller portions.

Consistent with this, the IFIC Food Technology survey found the top foods/ingredients consumers report they have limited or avoided in recent months include sugars/carbs (55%), fats/oils/cholesterol (26%), animal products (25%), and snack foods/fast foods/soda (20%). Approximately one-quarter of all consumers cite concern about impact on health as one reason for limiting or avoiding certain foods/ingredients.

When it comes to trusted sources of information, IFIC found that consumers would trust their own mom or their ownpersonal healthcare professional for nutrition and food safety information, more so than government agencies, food manufacturers, farmers, and other sources. The Food Technology Survey also found that consumers trust health organizations most (followed by government agencies and health professionals) for information about food biotechnology and sustainability – more so than farmers or scientists. 

IFIC surveys have consistently shown that the most trusted source and the most common source of health, nutrition, and food safety information are usually different for consumers. For example, media, TV personalities, and online sources may be common sources of information on these topics, but in the Food Technology Survey, they rank well below health organizations, government agencies, and health professionals when it comes to their most trusted sources. And, depending on the topic, their most trusted source may be different. This indicates, says Loving, that information must not only be tailored by audience, but by topic.

“For example, the Food & Health Survey found that more consumers trust government agencies for food safety information than for information about what types of foods they should be eating. About three in ten consumers trust a friend or family member for this information, more than they trust farmers and food manufacturers. However, their own personal healthcare professional is who they trust most for information in both of these areas,” says Loving.

Most importantly, says Loving, for those communicating about the science around food safety, nutrition, and food production issues, making the discussion relevant to the top factors influencing consumers – taste, price and healthfulness – will increase the likelihood that the discussion will resonate with consumers.