A truly acquired taste

Consumers hunger for convenience food and flavoured drinks, but food producers and marketers must be aware of the public’s perceptions of flavours and how these vary from market to market

3chips918004_s.JPGThe confectionery market has faced tough times recently as companies seek to boost earnings through functional foods. Not all new variants are to consumers’ taste, though.

The future of Masterfoods’ AquaDrops, for instance, is in doubt. Because of its fruit-based flavour, consumers are confused over the positioning of the product as a sweet or a functional food, while retailers are considering delisting the product (MW August 18).

So what do consumers think about flavourings in foods? Do they think they are harmful or that they add to a product?

The overall trend towards more highly processed food and drinks around the world means that additives and flavourings are widely used. Growing demand for convenience foods and for extended shelf-life has also boosted the additives supply. As the convenience foods sector grows, so does the desire for new flavours and tastes, with the popularity of ethnic dishes leading to an inflated demand for spicy flavours and enhancers.

Flavours are one of the biggest areas of the additives market. Their popularity varies from one market to another though.

Fruit-based flavours such as orange and apple are perceived by consumers to be the healthiest, according to research from Leatherhead Food International. But while apple was rated extremely positively by three-quarters of German consumers, only 51 per cent of the French and 43 per cent of people in the UK agreed. Orange also scored highly among the Germans, compared with the French and British.

Other sweet flavours scored less well and notable differences emerged between the three countries. Vanilla, for instance, was rated extremely positively by 24 per cent of French consumers, compared with 12 per cent in the UK and six per cent in Germany.

Chocolate and caramel were viewed in a negative light in all three countries, particularly in the UK and Germany where caramel was thought to be unhealthy by more than two-thirds of respondents and chocolate by over 60 per cent. Figures were lower in France, suggesting that consumers who do not so readily associate those flavours with unhealthiness.

Most respondents think that crisps and fast food are the unhealthiest. When asked which flavours they considered unhealthiest, a number of common themes emerged. Some of the flavours picked most frequently included those used in confectionery, fizzy drinks and cakes. In the UK, eight per cent said that flavour was not an indication of health, while three per cent claimed that almost all sweet flavours are unhealthy.

Innovation has been particularly noticeable in soft drinks, with consumers able to readily mention new variants. Around 20 per cent of German respondents cited Fanta Citrell and 17 per cent named Fanta Blueberry. In the UK, cranberry and raspberry was named by 19 per cent of respondents, most of whom associated this flavour with Ocean Spray drinks. Other fruit combinations people recalled included melon and apple for the J2O brand; and orange and Mango, or apple and mango, both of which were associated with Britvic.

In Germany, aloe vera-flavoured yoghurt came top, named by 28 per cent of respondents. Some identified this flavour with the Ehrmann and Emmy brands. This indicates a German interest in functional foods, since some of the yoghurts are marketed as having additional health benefits. In the UK, Lemon Yoghurt Kit Kat and Vanilla Coke have made an impression with some consumers.

Looking at the savoury sector, vegetables – and more specifically tomato – emerged as the flavour perceived to be the healthiest in the UK and France. Consumers view natural flavours or products in a very positive light and perceive some of them as being healthy as well. Similarly, five per cent of Germans associate herbs with health.

A large number of French consumers are also concerned about the presence of artificial additives or ingredients. Almost two-thirds of all respondents say products containing artificial aromas are unhealthy, reinforcing the general view that artificial ingredients are considered feel that factory-produced food contains far too many preservatives, flavourings and additives, thus contributing to their unhealthy image. They also describe fast food as being “produced for profit, not for health”.

Food marketers need to be aware of consumers’ perceptions towards flavours and how those perceptions influence their buying decisions. Such information is of vital importance to product developers looking to expand the sector with new and improved variants. However, while consumers want their food and drink to taste good, a mistrust of additives is growing and the trend towards natural ingredients should not be ignored.

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