Blog: Doubt and confusion

Catherine Sleep | 7 December 2005

Two pieces of research published recently may well plunge manufacturers of functional foods into a slough of despond.

Both Datamonitor and ACNielsen claim that lack of awareness is hampering the growth and acceptance of functional foods, which are foods fortified with added vitamins or supplements and promoting specific health benefits – as we should all know by now. Some of them have been around for a long time, yet awareness in many markets remains scant.

Just as an example, ACNielsen found that 94% of Danes had never heard of soy milk. Can this really be? Apparently so. A good third of consumers who were questioned didn’t believe functional foods really offered additional health benefits as they claimed.

Datamonitor findings back this up: it said that many consumers are still deterred from buying these expensive products because they simply do not trust their makers. In the UK, where sales of functional foods nevertheless reached GBP419m (US$721m) in 2004, over six in ten consumers do not believe food and drink health claims.

This makes for pretty depressing reading. Marketing functional foods is complex. Often a product’s USP is difficult to communicate to non-scientists and many of the companies involved are small and/or young and therefore do not enjoy much recognition in their own right.

Yet there was good news for olive oil producers this week when scientists pinpointed the micronutrients in olive oil that make it a good heart protector. That said, producers have rarely tried to blind consumers with science yet the health benefits of olive oil are widely accepted. Maybe TV commercials showing cheesy images of quaintly wrinkled jolly Greek peasants is the way forward after all.


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