Knowledge gap: Consumer awareness of Japan’s health and functional food categories remains low – new data

By Guan Yu Lim contact

- Last updated on GMT

Low uptake of health foods in Japan likely due to lack of knowledge, unmet health needs and preference for balanced diet: CAA survey ©Getty Images
Low uptake of health foods in Japan likely due to lack of knowledge, unmet health needs and preference for balanced diet: CAA survey ©Getty Images

Related tags: Japan, FFC, FOSHU, Label Bank

Recently published survey findings from Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) have revealed that a high percentage of consumers were not actively taking health or functional foods, with a local expert attributing this to a lack of knowledge, unmet health needs and a preference for a balanced diet.

CAA conducted an online survey on 10,000 respondents in March 2020, studying consumers attitudes towards health foods categorised under the food with nutrient claim (FNFC), food for specified health use (TOKUHO/FOSHU) or food with function claim (FFC).

The survey revealed that while most consumers (more than 60%) have heard of these health claims, they were not entirely knowledgeable on it.

For example, 31.2% of respondents have heard and knew what FOSHU was, 60.9% have heard but were unsure of the claim, and 8% of respondents have never heard of FOSHU.

For FFC, the figures were even smaller. 18% surveyed have heard and knew what FFC was, 66.2% have heard but were unsure, and 15.8% have not heard of the claim.

Hiroyuki Kawai, CEO of Japan-based consultancy firm Label Bank, explained that while the majority of respondents had heard of such claims, they were unable to differentiate between the systems and found it difficult to understand the differences.

He highlighted that the increased awareness in the FOSHU system was probably due to its longer implementation. The FOSHU system was established in 1991, and the FFC system in 2015.

Kawai added that the absence of active promotion by CCA probably contributed to the lack of awareness among consumers.

The awareness-raising activities run by the CAA such as placement of pamphlets in public institutions as the focus of the programme are limited and are not an active advertisement capable of reaching all consumers​.”

To consume or not

The survey also asked respondents on their consumption habits of such foods with health claims.

For FOSHU, 17.6% of respondents were currently consuming such products. 23.5% used to take but have stopped, 27.2% have never consumed such products but were willing to try, and 31.8% had never consumed and never plan to do so.

For FFC, 14.8% of respondents were currently taking such products. 16.3% used to take but have stopped, 34% had never consumed but were willing to try, and 35% have never consumed and do not plan to.

Kawai pointed out that many FOSHU and FFC products were sold in convenience stores, and highly accessible to consumers.

However, since they are exposed on the same shelves with other general food products, some consumers who denied purchasing these products (FFC, FOSHU etc) may not actually realize that they were in fact buying them​.”

For consumers who did not purchase such products, Kawai highlighted that some of these consumers do not place high expectations of FOSHU and FFC products, mostly believing that a balanced daily diet was more important.

In addition, “Consumers who responded that they purchased FOSHU and FFC products may not experience the expected (health) effects and therefore stopped their consumption​.”

“Furthermore, as it is assumed that a daily intake (of health foods) is required (to deliver the benefits), many consumers think that it is difficult to continue purchasing the products on a daily basis. In this case, the price is likely to have some impact on the consumer decision​.”

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