When it comes to product ingredients, thinking about how consumers perceive them can be more beneficial than solely focusing on “proven” health benefits. In his article Identifying Health Ingredients, Keith Nunes discusses how Canadean, a market research company, conducted a global survey asking consumers to evaluate 100 common ingredients. Respondents were asked to rank ingredients –including grains, fruits, vitamins, minerals, and sweeteners—based on their perceived benefits. In the United States, whole grains, blueberries, green tea, almonds, garlic, olive oil, brown rice, potassium, pomegranate, and Greek yogurt encompassed the top ten. Canadean speculated that Americans ranked whole grains first due to the positioning and language used to talk about them. Potassium ranked high in the US, but not in other countries, which the article attributes to the language used around coconut water in particular. Looking to the future of trending “healthy” ingredients, matcha was noted to be an upcoming potential fad. Matcha, a powdered version of green tea leaves, claims strong health benefits but is relatively unknown by most consumers at this point. As with any new ingredient trend, if consumers’ knowledge around this ingredient is low, then products containing it will have a lower perceived health benefit than the product may actually deliver.

As ingredient decks change and the desire for food transparency grows, it will be important to understand what ingredients consumers perceive as healthier and which are worth the added cost.  While the survey mentioned in this article is interesting, it lacks the essential component of why? Why do consumers perceive these ingredients as healthier than others? Why do the benefits of some ingredients seem apparent while others are more confusing? While the results are a good starting point, without answering the “whys,” companies are left with educated assumptions instead of the complete picture. For example, although green tea was ranked highly, it is not clear what benefit it communicates to consumers.  By answering why consumers see green tea as healthy, a company will have a much better foothold regarding if/how to implement these products.

Qualitative research is important because it helps to answer the “why?” and fills in the complete picture of consumer perceptions and desires. In providing these “whys”, companies are then able to make informed, strategic changes to their products/packaging that best communicate their benefits. It also allows for strategic cost/benefit analysis of adding newer or trending ingredients (i.e. are consumers willing to pay more for certain ingredients due to their perceived health benefits?). Having a conversation with consumers about products on shelf builds intuition about their current brands and products. That conversation is also essential in teasing out consumers’ perceptions, and, most importantly, fills in the “why?” behind those perceptions.

-Beth Wogen, Research Associate/Bilingual Coordinator

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