According to MCCP, four in five adults in Ireland (79%) believe that there are conflicting health messages, which make it difficult to know what to eat. Consumers are struggling to balance what they think is right for themselves and for their families in the face of mixed messages.
When it comes to food brands, the survey notes that we are sceptical about their health claims with 81% of adults in Ireland agreeing that brands are always pushing their own agenda in the health information they provide, rather than providing their consumers with the truth.
According to MCCP, 2015 was the year that saw sugar and artificial sweeteners rise to public enemy number one and now more than ever the journey of our ingredients from field to fork has become incredibly important to us. Fuelled by the global trend of healthier eating, consumers now want to know exactly what is going into their bodies. With constant media attention, the war on sugar has instilled a certain fear in the minds of consumers. “We are repeatedly bombarded with confusing messages about food and health. Investigative journalists and celebrity nutritionists are taking us behind the factory wall and into the lab to see what really goes into the food we eat and primarily, what it is doing to us. Overall, it is a worrying picture,” notes MCCP.
MCCP found that the top ranked source for credible information about food and health claims are the independent public health researchers like university departments, with state agency brands also ranking highly for credibility.
For their part, retailers were ranked lower on the scale for their credibility on health. They have steered clear of healthy eating issues in recent campaigns, preferring to focus on quality of produce.
MCCP asked what it is about the top performers that makes them credible and authentic. The most important factors were that there is no hidden agenda (48%) in reporting health benefits and have the best interests of consumers at heart (38%). The findings also revealed that brand trust (42%) was the most important factor in some sectors.
Millennials, the survey noted, have become a core driver of the clean label movement who are demanding good behaviour from the companies they buy from being twice as likely to check product packaging to ensure sustainability and twice as likely to purchase from a brand because of its sustainability credentials, or put their money in investment funds that target sustainability outcomes.
Based on these results, Kay McCarthy, founder and managing director of MCCP, had this message for food brands: “The first question for food brands is whether they should try to engage in debates about healthy eating at all. The answer is yes, they should: two-thirds of Irish adults (65%) think it reflects well on a brand to talk about the health benefits of their products.
The next question is how to champion their own great work in developing healthy food in a way that is credible and authentic. Part of the answer is in the value Irish consumers place on trust, a relationship founded on having their best interests at heart. However, food brands need to tread a fine line between convincing a somewhat sceptical audience and maintaining a focus on growth,” she says.
“Authentic brands are bold, but accurate in their claims. They are honest when consumer interests match commercial ones, like telling consumers to eat more of what’s good for them, and when the consumer interest means eating less of indulgent products. By focusing on the people that matter to them – their consumers – food brands can build the trust and credibility that will drive long-term growth,” she continued.
What does this mean for consumers? Dr Brían Merriman, research director, MCCP, had the following advice for clients: “We had identified a trend of brands making claims about the health benefits of their products and wanted to find out the consumer perspective about the credibility of those claims. Our brand survey is designed to prize apart what matters to consumers in this complex world and the opportunities for brands and how they can be really credible and real in this space. As consumers, we’re good at spotting when they’re hiding something, exploiting us, or attempting to fool us. Brands must find a way to understand this and to identify how to message to meet the real needs for today’s consumer in this complex space.”