A study by Vecchio et al.published in the Food Quality and Preference Journal analysed the probiotic preferences of 600 Italian consumers responsible for household food shopping.
Yoghurt outdoes orange juice and biscuits
They found that the base product was the most important factor for consumers in selecting probiotic food and drinks with a mean importance of 34%.
Yoghurt was the most favoured product over orange juice and biscuits, the only other two forms analysed.
“This finding is consistent with previous results. However, it is interesting to mention that quite surprisingly biscuits are preferred to orange juice,” said the researchers. But they warned this could be because probiotic orange juice was not yet widespread in Italy.
“Consumers deem products that are intrinsically healthy, such as yoghurt, as credible carriers of functional properties,” they added.
Prevention health claim
Brand was the next most treasured attribute (28%) for probiotics, followed by health claims (22%), while price was the least desired quality (16%).
For health claims, Study participants rated a prevention claim (prevents gastrointestinal illness risk) higher than a generic claim (contributes to general well-being) and a psychological claim (helps reduce intestinal irregularities).
“Concluding, we can state that consumers prefer yoghurts of a familiar brand, with a regular price level and claims which prove disease reducing properties,” said the researchers.
Consumer confusion: What are functional foods?
However, they added that consumers were still not very clear what functional foods really are.
16% of participants thought a functional food was a light or diet product, while 9.5% thought they were foods for people with dietary problems.
There is no unique definition for functional foods, but a 2007 study by Niva said they are foods containing added, technologically developed ingredients with a specific health benefit.
Almost a fifth of consumers in Vecchio’s study said they had never consumed functional foods because they did not know their properties or were doubtful about potential benefits.
Probiotic market decline after health claim ban
Euromonitor International expects the European probiotic foods and supplements market to shrink €130m in the next five years from €5.13bn last year to about €5bn in 2017,
A recent health claim ban is seen as the likeliest culprit. Pre- and probiotic gut, immunity and other health claims – along with the very use of the terms pre- and probiotic – have been banned in the EU since December 14 last year.