The study, published in Appetite, examined consumers' willingness to buy functional foods using data from internet surveys from people in China and Germany. The results showed that consumers in China were much more willing to buy functional foods, compared with their German counterparts, said the research team – led by Professor Michael Siegrist from ETH Zurich.
The market for functional foods is growing rapidly, with a number of drivers including increased life expectancy and rising costs of healthcare likely to contribute to further growth in the future, said the authors.
“It is not surprising that the food industry and researchers invest substantial resources in the development of new functional food products,” said Siegrist and his colleagues.
“However, these novel food products will only be viable if consumers are willing to accept them as part of their daily diet.”
They also noted that manufacturers of functional foods often assume that added health benefits increase consumers' willingness to buy products and that a premium can be charged for these items – however the research shows this is not always the case.
“The results support the notion that in some countries (i.e., China), the idea that food provides some specific health benefits is much more prevalent than in other countries (i.e., Germany),” they said – adding that the findings also show that cultural factors play a significant role in the acceptance of functional foods.
“Therefore, caution should be exercised in generalising research findings from Western countries to others,” they warned.
Siegrist and his team said the results of the study suggested ‘very large differences’ in the acceptance of functional foods in Germany and China.
Indeed, for all 16 functional food concepts tested, Chinese consumers showed significantly and substantially higher values for willingness to buy compared with German consumers, they noted.
In both China and Germany, the team found that health motivation and trust in the product were important factors in consumers ‘willingness to buy’,
For German shoppers a product with many functional benefits listed was seen as negative, while in China fears relating trying new foods (food neophobia) had a negative impact on perceptions and willingness to buy.
“A substantial segment of the German consumers indicated lower willingness to buy functional foods, compared with the same foods without additional health benefits,” said the team.
For example, around 42% of the German respondents indicated lower willingness to buy yogurt that would reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, compared with yogurt without additional health benefits, they said.
“The same functional food concepts that are attractive to only a niche market in Germany have potential appeal to a mass market in China,” said Siegrist and his colleagues – who emphasized the importance of further research in Asian countries “because cultural factors and traditions are crucial in the food domain and may strongly influence consumers' reactions to new food products.”
Volume 92, Pages 87–93, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.05.017
“Worlds apart. Consumer acceptance of functional foods and beverages in Germany and China”
Authors: Michael Siegrist, et al