The market research firm found that 32% of UK consumers claim to often read the ingredients on food and drink packaging, while 9% say they always do so. However, even among these consumers, awareness of less everyday specialist ingredients, like stevia, DHA or taurine, is relatively low.
Overall, 58% of 2,000 UK consumers surveyed had never heard of stevia, the researcher found, but more than half (53%) of those who always or often read ingredient labels said they had heard of the sweetener, compared to just 36% among those who said they rarely or never checked ingredient lists. DHA, a sub-type of omega-3, was the least well-known ingredient, recognised by just 38% of consumers, while nearly everyone (98%) said they had heard of omega-3.
One in five (21%) consumers said they rarely or never read ingredient lists.
Canadean consumer research manager Alex Wilman said that awareness levels of less common ingredients may stay low for some time, so food manufacturers may prefer to steer clear of promoting less familiar ingredients front-of-pack.
In the case of DHA, Wilman said: “Manufacturers and marketing teams may be better off sticking to more well-known terms when making health benefit claims – like “containing omega-3” for example – or they risk the impact of the ingredients being lost on many consumers – especially among those who do not regularly check a product’s ingredients as a matter of habit.”
However, lack of consumer awareness of an ingredient does not necessarily stand in the way of a product’s success.
Wilman said that taurine was recognised by just 47% of consumers, for example.
“Red Bull is a huge success despite a majority of consumers claiming to have never heard of taurine – one of its key ingredients. This goes to show that to some consumers, a product’s overall ethos can mean much more than what actually goes into it.”
The researcher also found that women and those with a higher socio-economic status were more likely to check ingredient lists compared to men and those with a lower socio-economic status.
Wilman suggested that women in general may tend to be more health conscious than men, while those on lower incomes may be less likely to deviate from familiar product due to budget constraints.
“When it comes to checking ingredients, consumers are more likely to do so with unfamiliar products. As a result, consumers from higher social status groups may therefore check ingredients more frequently.”