Consumer decisions are now based on the “world around them”, leaving them exposed to information that is contradictory and confusing – and legitimate claims made by manufacturers are increasingly being drowned out, Dr Greg Paul, global director for consumer insights at DuPont Nutrition & Health, has claimed.
Paul was part of a panel debate on day two at this year’s Food Vision 2016 conference, which ends today (March 4) in Cannes, south of France.
“There is absolutely no doubt that there is a prevalence of information out there, and it’s very confusing. Most consumers get their information on decisions based on the world around them, and that includes what they hear on TV, what friends tell them, and what they read,” Paul explained.
“All of this together leads the consumer to believe that any claim is credible, which has become a great challenge for the food industry,” he added.
Paul also highlighted the risks of adding health claims onto products. His experience in the US was that they don’t drive significant purchase behaviour, unless those health claims directly affected consumers with a health condition.
“You have to be very careful with your expectations of your health claim when you are putting it on a product.
“If, for example, you have a cereal product that can be consumed by a grand swath of the population, and then you add a really specific health claim, you risk losing a major quantity of your customer base,” he said.
However, Dr Jörg Spieldenner, head of public health at the Nestlé Research Centre, took a more positive view about consumer behaviour.
“Based on our research, I think information doesn’t always necessarily change behaviour. From an industry perspective, we think everything is blurred and not clear, and no one is listening to us – but I have more trust in consumers,” Spieldenner said.
‘Carrot and the stick’
Also on the panel debate, Jane Badham, md at JB Consultancy, said the industry and regulatory bodies “need to find the balance between the carrot and the stick” when it comes to influencing consumer choices.
“I think very often, regulators think the stick – in the sense of creating restrictions and frameworks – is the solution to the problem. But from what we’ve seen, that isn’t actually always the case.
“Therefore, we have to look at lot more at the carrot – in terms of having nutrient profiling models and getting consumers to change behaviour by choice, rather than by force,” Badham said.
Nutrition has been a central theme at Food Vision , which took place between March 2 and March 4.
The annual event is organised by William Reed, the publisher of FoodManufacture.co.uk.