Findings from the University of Agriculture in Krakow, Poland, reveal that consumers' purchasing behaviour towards functional foods is affected by product acceptance. The review, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Publish Health (DOI: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18105327), shows that different consumer groups have varying motivations and expectations when implementing functional food products in their daily diet.
The researchers focused on analysing papers focusing on functional food (FF) and consumers. After their exclusion criteria, they analysed the data from 47 articles and found that one of the main motivations attracting consumers to buy functional foods is health. Interestingly, consumers understand that FF products are best suited for preventive measures and less costly alternatives than curative medicinal products.
Some consumers perceive FF as necessary for a healthy diet, especially those who are embracing healthy ageing. Further, consumers seem to be aware of the association between FF products and non-communicable diseases health risks. When it comes to paying more for FF products, researchers found "only a small group of respondents did not want to sacrifice money to prevent these health problems." Another point mentioned was that consuming FF products can cause good impressions, where consumers are convinced these products allow them to look after their health easily.
When looking past health benefits and disease prevention, researchers found product taste was a deciding factor in purchasing. Consumers who understand the strong health claims displayed in FF products and are highly motivated are willing to compromise on taste; generally, good taste and smell are additional factors that influence buying behaviours. Interestingly, researchers found that forward-thinking consumers are more likely to accept and purchase FF products. Researchers explained: “the acceptance of innovation is specific, with scepticism about “improving” food (enrichment with various ingredients) yet positive attitudes to the reduction of components being unfavourable for health.”
Packaging also plays an essential role in influencing purchasing behaviour. Apart from visual packaging aesthetics, researchers highlighted: "Labels, providing information on the potential health benefits of functional products, could influence the purchase decisions of consumers to a high extent." Another issue of importance for consumers is the perceived safety from enhanced FF products: "Consumers who are convinced of the safety of FF are more willing to consume them.”
Knowledge and education play a big role in influencing consumers' perceived benefits of FF products. A correlation between FF product acceptance and nutritional understanding was found. Thus, researchers noted, "appropriate strategies related to education may be needed to enhance FF consumption." Additionally, consumers who experienced health issues in their families were stronger believers of the benefits of FF products and less critical of information related to such products.
Researchers concluded, “Functional products have the potential to help improve physical and mental health, leading to a higher quality of life.” However, “Because of the complex nature of consumer motivations and expectations, proper strategy for functional food design, technological development and marketing is crucial. Simultaneously, effective educational programs should be implemented. Since the definition of ‘functional foods’ is differently understood worldwide, and this term is often abused, appropriate, evidence-based communication is strongly needed.”