Lack of trust puts consumers off functional food

A new report from independent market analyst Datamonitor reveals that sales of functional foods have rocketed across Europe,

and were worth £4 billion last year. But many consumers are still deterred from buying these expensive products because they simply do not trust the makers.

In the UK, where sales reached £419 million in 2004, over six in ten consumers do not believe food and drink health claims.“Unless companies make labelling clearer and more believable, most people will never be persuaded to make the switch to functional food and drinks, comments John Band, consumer markets analyst at Datamonitor and author of the report.

Sales of functional products rose by 43% in Europe between 1999 and 2004, reaching a total value of £4 billion. Germans eat and drink the most functional products in Europe; and at £1 billion, sales are more than 150% the size of those in any other EU country. Germany has the second highest level of per head consumption after Sweden. Growth in the UK was slower: Brits only stepped up their consumption by a third over the same period, leaving the market at £419 million in 2004.

“The problem is that British consumers are Europe’s most cynical, says Band.“They just don’t believe that products have real health benefits. He adds,“French consumers are reluctant to consume packaged ‘healthy’ products; they prefer to trust in the health benefits of traditional local food.

Cynicism is not unique to the UK. Nearly half of Europeans lack trust in media channels, particularly the press and television, and almost six in ten say that they do not trust big companies. Trust between consumers and suppliers is rapidly diminishing – a trend that is shifting how consumers spend their money, says Band.

Consumers view food and drinks firms as less trustworthy than banks, insurance companies, utilities or car dealers – and are especially wary of specific health-boosting claims. In the UK, 63% of people do not trust food and drinks companies’ health-boosting claims, while 47% of French people and 56% of Germans are wary of health claims.

“It’s not hard to work out why consumers don’t trust food health claims, says Band.“If people don’t understand what the advert or the label is talking about, of course they won’t believe it’ll be a miracle cure. All too often, functional products make wide-ranging claims using complicated scientific language – and people just don’t think the claims will be true. Companies need to educate consumers on how nutraceuticals work, and at the same time promote realistic expectations.

“Consumers have moved on from the attitudes of the 1960s, when people didn’t feel guilty about their health when choosing food – availability and affordability were the major concerns, says Band.“Today, consumers are following crash and fad diets and popping vitamin pills to make up for deficient lifestyles. In the future, they will increasingly need sustainable nutrition. This is certain to mean that we eat more functional food and drinks.

Datamonitor forecasts sales in the UK will grow 32% to £551 million in 2009, but players will need to overcome consumers’ mistrust to grow their share of this market.

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