This was the key message from a presentation given by Erika Rosbotham, PhD researcher at Ulster University, during the Nutrition Society’s summer conference earlier this month.
Rosotham’s research suggests many consumers are unaware of when they are consuming products enriched with vitamin D.
“We recommend that industry should implement clear, appropriate labelling, coupled with relevant marketing strategies, to ensure that vitamin D enriched products are easily identified by consumers.”
She emphasised: “A lack of consumer understanding highlights a need for health promotion campaigns via the media or social media, as well as health professionals.”
Fortification vs. supplementation
Rosbotham drew attention to research conducted at her university, investigating the consumer acceptability and sensory evaluation of vitamin D enriched foods, including eggs, meats, and associated products.
She emphasised that the findings noted that fortification was preferred over supplementation, with supplements being considered more ‘unnatural’ and ‘medical’.
Breakfast cereals, milk, water, and baked goods were products preferred for enrichment.
“We see that the barriers to consuming these enriched foods include a lack of knowledge of the health benefits, vitamin D sources, and the consequences of deficiency.
“There’s also a lack of trust in the food industry resulting in consumers that may be unwilling to pay a premium for vitamin D enriched products,” she said.
With regards to mandatory fortification, consumer concerns were reported over issues such as freedom of choice, fear of artificial additives and toxicity.
“Approved nutrition and health claims may also help consumers to link the health benefits of vitamin D. It’s also important that a range of products are used to reach all population subgroups.”
Discussing the results from her unpublished research into vitamin D biofortification, which gathered opinions from a consumer panel, Rosbotham reported that young females with higher education were more likely to purchase vitamin D enriched products over other consumer groups.
She added that, when the panel was questioned on whether they had recently purchased vitamin D enriched foods, the majority said that if they had, they were not aware of it.
“With regards to pricing, 40% of our consumer group were willing to pay a standard price whilst 60% would pay a premium price due to a perception of increased quality. Consumers also didn’t express any concerns over toxicity risk,” she said.
Rosbotham explained that the panel was then presented with sausage products, with packaging baring the health claims ‘contributes to normal muscle function’ or ‘contributes to normal immune function’.
It was reported that 83% of consumers resonated more with the product displaying immunity claims, but some consumers were sceptical over the quantities of vitamin D required to influence these aspects of health.
Rosbotham also highlighted the potential for packaging to carry multiple claims in order to appeal to a wider consumer group.
“There was also a suggestion to include both health claims on the packaging from a mother, who herself would reach for the immunity claim product. Yet, being a gym-goer herself, she said she would rather the muscle function benefit.”
When investigating the effect of vitamin D bio-fortification on sensorial characteristics of an array of food products, such as appearance, odour, and flavour, the panel research noted limited influence on overall likability.
Interestingly, Rosbotham pointed out that fortification has been associated with an improved viscosity in milk products, as well as visual properties of eggs, suggesting further benefits for product functionality.
She noted: “Consumer acceptability is essential for product development and market success, and the importance of consumer choice cannot be overlooked in the development of vitamin D enriched foods.”