Consumers are becoming increasingly educated about food and are questioning the health profile of their favourite brands, according to a study published by sugar and sweeteners company Tate and Lyle.

This increase in awareness has been fuelled by government campaigns and media debates, such as Jamie Oliver’s crusade to improve school dinners, the company said.  The debate about children’s diet has been key, with steps taken in both Britain and France to control the types of food available in schools.

Tate and Lyle has been commissioning bespoke consumer insight research programmes for the past two years in Western Europe, monitoring attitudes towards diet, health and food issues.  The research is a mix of qualitative research discussions and quantitative polling data obtained from representative samples of shoppers in the UK, France and Germany.

The increase in concern about and awareness of health issues has caused consumers to question the nutritional value of food they buy and consume on a regular basis and to become sceptical about brand claims. When asked, 65% of consumers agreed with the statement ‘often brands that claim to be healthy aren’t healthy at all’.

Consumers are looking for ways to improve their diet, with 66% of respondents across Europe agreeing that ‘I am always looking for ways to eat more healthily’ (70% UK, 74% France and 56% Germany).

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More than eight in ten consumers (84%) know that eating fruit and vegetables is key to a healthy diet. 92% of British consumers believe in the importance of fresh fruit compared with German consumers (89%) and French consumers (70%).

Fat and sugar are the top two elements that consumers believe they should limit to make their diets more healthy and are the most frequently requested ingredients to be reduced in a wide variety of foods.  Eight in ten people (82%) believe that fat ‘needs to be limited to have a healthy diet’ and 75% of people felt the same way about sugar.

One in two adults (51%) say that they are solely responsible for what they eat.  When consumers were asked what other influences there are on their diet, popular choices included:  family and friends (46%), brands and advertising (28%), the media (17%), retailers (14%).

Only 27% of parents believe they solely influence what their children eat.  Family and friends (68%), brands and advertising (30%), schools (30%), government (17%) were popular choices as additional influences.

Parents are concerned about brands that target their children with 74% believing ‘food and drinks marketed at kids are often unhealthy’.

Cutting back on alcohol is seen as important for a healthy diet by 47% of Europeans, but there are big differences between France (22%) and Germany (68%).

Tate and Lyle’s qualitative studies show that there are some differences between the British, French and German attitudes towards food.  Balance and moderation are central to French and German eating, whereas in the UK whilst a balanced diet is seen as a good idea, it is not the reality of everyday eating.  Consequently, there is a more negative attitude towards food in the UK, where some foods are labelled ‘bad’ and others ‘good’.

Across Europe, while consumers are becoming more concerned about the health consequences of their diet, the majority of people still believe that taste is the most important factor in determining what they eat.  More than two in five consumers (42%) agreed that enjoying food is more important than nutrition, while one in three people (33%) argue that taste and health are equally important.  The remaining 25 % of respondents were ambiguous, not agreeing with any stated view.

This research has informed and influenced the development of Tate and Lyle’s new Rebalance Solution Sets, which are designed to help manufacturers satisfy this consumer demand.  Rebalance Solution Sets are co-processed combinations of ingredients that allow food manufacturers to achieve certain goals, such as calorie or fat reduction in a product, without compromising on taste and texture. The Solution Sets use innovative ingredients like Splenda sucralose and other Tate and Lyle speciality starches and sweeteners.

“People want to eat healthier diets but they want the full taste of indulgence brands. There is no room for compromise,” said Rachel Moffatt, european marketing manager at Tate and Lyle.  “Our Rebalance Solution Sets mean that manufacturers can ensure that their trusted brands can deliver on both taste and nutrition, and that consumers can pick up these products with confidence.”