Consumer insight from Canadean Consumer

1 November 2012

Canadean Consumer research reveals how customers are responding to innovations and market trends in ingredients and food products. Find the full report at

It's all in the genes

According to a recent report, genetically modified ingredients are the most polarising when it comes to consumer opinion. The research, conducted by Canadean Consumer, was designed to examine the degree to which consumers would look to avoid perceived unhealthy ingredients when shopping for grocery products.

The results show that 23% of consumers will always try and avoid grocery products that include genetically modified ingredients.

A further 35% of consumers will "often" or "sometimes" try to avoid grocery products that contain genetically modified ingredients, while 37% of consumers will "never" or "rarely" look to genetically modified ingredients. Within the research, there were also some notable differences across consumer demographics. The data shows that while only 11% of 18-24-year-olds and 14% of 25-34-year-olds always try to avoid genetically modified ingredients, among consumers aged 55+ years the figure was 31%.

“Canadean research has found that locally sourced ingredients will enhance a consumer’s enjoyment of an out-of-home meal occasion more than other “types” of ingredients.”

Ed Barham, research director at Canadean Consumer, says: "It appears that in the mind of some consumers, genetically modified ingredients still cause concerns, despite government reassurances over the safety of these items. With nearly a quarter of consumers looking to avoid all genetically modified ingredients and a fifth of consumers never trying to avoid genetically modified ingredients the issue clearly polarises consumer opinion. However, it would appear that the story is deeper than that.

"With the distrust of genetically modified ingredients higher among older consumers (55 years and over) it would appear that wider concerns this age group have with regard to the impact of diet on health, for example trans fats and heart disease, are affecting the perception of genetically modified products. By focusing on the potential health benefits of genetically modified ingredients, there is a chance this perception could be altered."

The feel-good local factor

Canadean research has found that locally sourced ingredients will enhance a consumer's enjoyment of an out-of-home meal occasion more than other "types" of ingredients. When asked to rate each ingredient type, locally sourced ingredients proved to have the largest influence on a consumer's enjoyment.

Consumers rated ingredient types on a scale of one to five (one being "no influence at all" and five being "a large influence"). With an average score of 2.91, locally sourced ingredients have the largest influence on a consumer's enjoyment when eating out of home, followed by exotic ingredients (2.71), sustainably sourced ingredients (2.70) and organic ingredients (2.55). Interestingly, expensive ingredients have the least enjoyment factor for consumers, who appear to be increasingly looking for menus promising localised produce, as opposed to a menu sampling the finest gourmet ingredients.

According to research manager Alex Wilman, these results come as no surprise: "One of the leading restaurant trends of 2012 is localism and more and more operators are now looking to source local ingredients and emphasise local meat, fish and produce, even drinks, on their menus. To the consumer, locally sourced products indicate freshness and quality and so consumers are likely to enjoy eating meals made using ingredients with local postcodes."

Wilman also looks at the relationship between localism and sustainability, with sustainable ingredients (2.70) ranking a close third in the enjoyment factor stakes: "Not only are local ingredients seen as fresh due to the short distance they need to travel from source to plate, but increasingly astute consumers are recognising that locally procured ingredients are also more sustainable. With sustainability another key trend in 2012, consumers are aware that local produce on a menu means a reduction in the operator's carbon footprint - further adding to the feel-good factor of the meal occasion."

Counting spirits

Few consumers regularly check labels to assess ingredients prior to purchasing spirits, according to a recent Canadean Consumer survey.

Despite recent attempts by the industry to give spirits a more premium positioning through formulation, the majority of alcoholic spirit drinkers in the UK do not bother checking ingredient claims on packaging and say that the majority of related claims have little influence on buying behaviour.

People are most likely to check ingredient claims prior to purchase when buying vodka, but even then only 14% say they do so regularly. Shoppers are least likely to check labelling when purchasing brandy and tequila, with 9% of people saying they regularly check before buying.

Michael Hughes, research manager at Canadean Consumer, explains: "Buying behaviour in the spirit sector tends to be influenced by routine and familiarity, with consumers turning to brands they know. The desire for indulgence and tendency to buy a trusted brand means that, in many instances, checking ingredient labels is not a consideration for shoppers."

When it comes to checking product labelling before buying alcoholic spirits in general, the most popular ingredient/product claim that consumers look for is "pure". Hughes adds: "Consumers associate purity in the spirits sector with quality - such as using the finest ingredients and production techniques. It is no surprise that the most popular form of ingredient claim is related to promotion of a beverage's premium credentials as opposed to its healthier formulation."

“Few consumers regularly check labels to assess ingredients prior to purchasing spirits, according to a recent Canadean Consumer survey.”

Meanwhile only 12% of people say that they look out for "exotic ingredients" when shopping and only 13% "organic ingredients". Hughes concludes: "Such is the tendency for buying behaviour to be influenced by routine and familiarity that shoppers are paying little attention to more modern labelling claims over the use of exotic ingredients, such as gins being formulated with botanicals."

This highlights how the industry still needs to do more to differentiate spirits and give them a more premium positioning through ingredient claims.

The proof is in the ingredient

While 32% of UK consumers "often" read the ingredients list on products they buy, only 9% "always" do so.

This is according to a recent report conducted by Canadean Consumer. The research also unearthed that 21% of consumers "rarely" or "never" read the ingredients, preventing them from familiarising themselves with less-everyday ingredients including DHA (38% awareness), Stevia (42%) and Taurine (47%).

For these ingredients, awareness levels are much higher among consumers who always or often read the ingredients lists on the products they purchase.

Women (44%) are more likely than men (39%) to "always" or "often" read the ingredients list on products they buy; in fact 26% of males "never" or "rarely" read the ingredients list, compared to only 17% of females. This difference implies that women are generally more health-conscious compared with their male counterparts, and are specifically using ingredient information as a means of guiding their healthy product choices.

The study also revealed that consumers from a higher social status are more likely to check ingredients lists "always" or "often" (44%), compared with consumers from a lower social status (38%). Canadean Consumer research manager Alex Wilman offers one explanation for this: "Consumers from lower social status groups may be less likely to deviate from regular product purchases as a result of tighter budget constraints. When it comes to checking ingredients, consumers are more likely to do so with unfamiliar products. As a result, consumers from higher social status groups may therefore check ingredients more frequently."

Every day, widely consumed and talked-about ingredients such as salt, caffeine and olive oil are familiar to virtually all consumers, regardless of whether they check the ingredients list on a product or not. Meanwhile, awareness of newer and more specialist ingredients such as DHA, Stevia and Taurine rely much more heavily on consumers reading labels. Indeed, 48% of consumers who "always" or "often" read the ingredients on packaging are aware of DHA, compared with just 29% of consumers who only "rarely" or "never" check. Similarly, this trend is also seen for Stevia (53% - 36%) and Taurine (56% - 41%).

“Every day, widely consumed and talked-about ingredients such as salt, caffeine and olive oil are familiar to virtually all consumers, regardless of whether they check the ingredients list on a product or not.”

There is also a big difference in awareness between the well known Omega-3 (98%) and DHA (48%), a sub-type of Omega-3. Wilman predicts: "With only 9% of consumers always checking the ingredients on products they buy, awareness levels of 'less-common' ingredients, like DHA, may stay low. DHA is increasingly being used on the face of product packaging as a key healthy marketing claim, despite many consumers being unfamiliar with the ingredient. Manufacturers and marketing teams may be better off sticking to more well-known terms when making health benefit claims - like "containing Omega-3" for example - or they risk the impact of the ingredients being lost on many consumers - especially among those who do not regularly check a product's ingredients as a matter of habit."

Despite this, Wilman believes that it is not essential to a product's success that all its ingredients are understood: "Red Bull is a huge success despite a majority of consumers claiming to have never heard of Taurine - one of its key ingredients. This goes to show that to some consumers, a product's overall ethos can mean much more than what actually goes into it."

Figure 4. Proportion of consumers who say that following ingredient claims have a “high” or “very high” influence when buying spirits, UK, 2012.
Figure 6. Consumers who have never heard of the following ingredients, UK respondents, n=2,000, 2012.
Figure 2. Degree each factor is likely to influence the enjoyment of an out-of-home meal occasion (average score from five-point scale), UK respondents, n=2,000, 2012.
Figure 3. Proportion of consumers who check ingredient information when buying the following beverages either “all of the time” or “most of the time”, UK, 2012.
Figure 1. Consumers who always look to avoid products that contain genetically modified ingredients (% UK respondents) 2012.
Figure 5. Consumers who have heard of the following ingredients – by ingredient checking habits - %, UK respondents, n=2,000, 2012.

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