Sixty-two percent of U.S. consumers say the fewer ingredients a food product contains the healthier it must be to eat.
“If that were true, I’m a happy girl because my favorite food only has three ingredients--potatoes, salt and oil,” said Lynn Dornblaser to agricultural media attending the 2019 Bayer AgVocacy meeting in Orlando, Fla. Dornblaser is director of innovation and insight for Mintel, a market research company. Her presentation at the event focused on what consumers think, what they feel and how to communicate with them.
One of her conclusions, based on research Mintel has done, is that consumers don’t have a good understanding of food science. For instance, she shared that:
- 44% eat gluten-free for a general health now, and not because they have celiac disease.
- 25% eat gluten-free because they know someone else who eats gluten-free.
- 35% of consumers believe GMOS are bad.
Dornblaser says there's a lot of opportunity for companies to communicate better with consumers about the food products they produce.
“I think that's the thing that's missing,” she says. “That's what hasn't happened in the food industry. The food industry has given away their knowledge to others and let the customer activists and consumer activist groups and people who don't understand the science communicate directly to consumers. And that's resulted in a lot of this [wrong] information and a lot of misunderstanding.”
GMOS are the obvious case in point, Dornblaser notes.
“Consumers had no clue what they were, and the overarching [thought] was, ‘I don't know what they are, but I know that they're bad for me,’” she says. “That speaks to that lack of communication and that lack of helping consumers truly understand what a product is all about.”
But consistent education communicated simply can make all the difference, she says, noting, for example, a product called Soylent, which is a brand of meal replacement products available in the U.S.
On all its advertising and on its label, Soylent says it’s pro-GMOs, that it’s produced with genetic engineering.
The company does an excellent job directing consumers to their website where it explains what genetic modification is, Dornblaser notes.
“They've got drawings of DNA sequences and how it works on their site. And they talk about why they use genetically modified ingredients,” she says. “They talk about the impact on the environment, the impact on yield, they talk about all those positives from genetic modification standpoint,” she says.
Soylent succeeds, Dornblaser says, because the company is transparent and backs its claims with information that’s easy to grasp. It’s a model that she says other companies and members of the agricultural community need to use.
“You can't try to hide anything; you have to tell the whole story in a straightforward manner,” she says.