What are consumer attitudes to fortification? Consumers often care about taste over health, study reveals

By Augustus Bambridge-Sutton

- Last updated on GMT

The study tested consumer attitudes towards fortified foods, such as dumplings. Image Source: ASMR/Getty Images
The study tested consumer attitudes towards fortified foods, such as dumplings. Image Source: ASMR/Getty Images

Related tags Fortification Consumer attitudes

Fortification has the potential to provide abundant health benefits, endowing products with a higher level of important nutrients than they otherwise would have possessed. However, taste and texture can be affected by it, which can in turn affect consumer attitudes. A recent study, which assessed these attitudes, suggested that concerns around taste often take predominance over health.

The study, which was conducted as part of a multi-disciplinary project with BIC Innovation, was published in the journal Appetite ​and assessed consumer attitudes to fortified products. The study used 25 participants, between the ages of 22 and 76, and consisted of a two staged process – firstly, a ‘blind’ taste test together with a discussion on health and taste, and secondly, another discussion with more knowledge about the true nature of the products in question.

The benefits of fortification

Fortification, as opposed to supplementation, offers a food-based approach to increasing the density of vital micronutrients and macronutrients within foods. Previous studies have shown that they are often very successful at increasing nutritional intakes of those who consume them, even in comparison with supplementation.

However, studies have also shown that fortification can change a product’s taste and texture and decrease consumer liking. For example, in one study, the use of whey protein and micronutrient-based powders elicited reports from consumers of the presence of ‘off flavours’ and ‘increased dryness.’ This has a substantial affect on consumer willingness to consume – one study found that fortification with vitamin D could lead to low consumer desire to switch to fortified foods.

Discovering fortification

The current study aimed to assess consumer attitudes towards fortification more broadly. Thus, its 25 participants were presented with six fortified foods, which included both savoury and sweet options.

In the first stage, they tried the foods ‘blind’, i.e. without awareness of the study’s aims. They were given the foods and encouraged to discuss both the taste and texture, and their beliefs regarding health, naturalness, sustainability and affordability of foods in general.

In the second phase, they were told about the nature of the study. Following this, they were asked about their preferences regarding food labelling, including health and nutritional claims, as well as if the new information – that the food was fortified - changed their expectations on product attributes. Finally, they were asked if they’d be willing to pay for the foods they had sampled.

Attitudes to fortification

The participants, particularly in the first stage, often detected an ‘off taste,’ with one saying of a chocolate ice cream, for example, that ‘it does not taste like actual chocolate, it tastes [like] something different.’ Furthermore, their willingness to buy foods was driven more by taste than health benefits.

However, after finding out the nature of the foods in question, many saw taste as a trade-off for greater nutritional benefits and showed more willingness to be health conscious.

Our study suggested that subtle tastes that would be associated with fortification ingredients were noticeable to the consumer​,” Laura Wilkinson, one of the study’s authors, told FoodNavigator.

It is for this reason that we suggest that engaging in consumer insight work early in the new product innovation journey is vital to achieving the right balance between taste characteristics and fortification goals and avoiding putting consumers off​.”

Participants also saw healthy foods as a ‘luxury’ item, a viewpoint which remained unchanged after they had been told the products were fortified. Many participants saw fortified products as too ‘fancy’ for them, and did not always express a desire to take on the extra costs they involved.

Finally, while participants were generally aware of the concept of fortification, they were often unsure of the specific ingredients it entailed, and their health benefits. They often wanted more context or evidence to support nutritional claims, with some questioning whether such fortification was a marketing strategy.

Our results suggested that consumers’ acknowledgement of health benefit associated with fortification did contribute to acceptability of products​,” Wilkinson told FoodNavigator.

Though, considering current high-profile discussions around processing, it is important to reassure consumers about the benefit of fortification to their health and that they have access to information about how foods are fortified and why​.”

The study revealed much about consumer attitudes towards fortified products. But there are several key things that it didn’t cover, for example consumer attitudes at different levels of fortification.

Further work to understand consumer acceptability of fortification, especially in foods that are not traditionally associated with fortification, is certainly warranted due to the potential health benefit, particularly around protein for older adults​,” Wilkinson told us.

Moreover, the complexity of decision-making trade-offs between consumers’ health goals that could be met with fortification at different levels and sensory experience need to be further understood​.”

Sourced From: Appetite
'Exploring consumer beliefs about novel fortified foods: A focus group study with UK-based older and younger adult consumers’
Published on: 1 December 2023
Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2023.107139
Authors: R. Embling, L. Neilson, C. Mellor, M. Durodola, N. Rouse, A. Haselgrove, K. Shipley, A. Tales, L. Wilkinson

Related topics Nutrition Fortification