More than half of US consumers are willing to pay a premium for clean label ready meals and want to learn about technologies that help limit the number of additives and preservatives needed.
This is according to a survey and choice experiments study led by researchers from Washington State University (WSU), in the US.
The researchers found 56 percent of survey respondents exhibited positive reactions when asked if they preferred foods with both a clean label and the name of the new technology. However, around 39 percent of respondents in the survey group asked solely about clean labels – and not the new technology – exhibited a negative reaction.
“Our findings emphasize the importance of providing consumers information about a new food technology and the resulting benefits,” says Karina Gallardo, a WSU economics professor and corresponding author of the study in the journal Agribusiness.
“As foods with ‘clean labels’’ (foods with few ingredients), become more popular, these types of technologies will also become more valuable to food manufacturers.”
The allure of familiarity
One of the reasons the researchers think their study participants preferred the new technology is its name. Study participants were asked about a new technology called (Microwave Assisted Thermal Sterilization) MATS.
“It is based on and named after a massively adopted technology, the microwave,” says fellow WSU economist and study co-author Jill McCluskey.
“The fact that the new technology uses the familiar term microwave is likely a factor that increases its acceptance by consumers.”
MATS works like a microwave oven, using heat to kill pathogenic bacteria, which ensures both food safety and preserves the taste, texture and appearance of processed meals.
“The MATS technology allows companies to sterilize food products in a way that retains their organoleptic qualities, making them more similar to a recently prepared meal,” McCluskey says.
It also enables using fewer food preservatives and additives compared to current sterilization practices, she adds, which makes it possible to have an end-product with the difficult-to-achieve clean label.
“Shelf-ready meals that warrant a clean label have been historically difficult to produce with conventional food preservation technology but recent breakthroughs are making it possible,” she notes.
“However, because consumers are often wary of adopting new technologies, especially when it comes to the food they eat, it is important to consider their perception of the costs and benefits.”
Not for everyone
While both groups of participants exhibited an overall preference for clean labels, there was a large minority of people in the study who weren’t interested in paying the price premium for the product with fewer ingredients.
These participants tended to have lower than a US$67,000 annual income, have children in the household and perceived themselves to be less healthy.
“This group does not consider the message ‘absence of artificial ingredients’ as important in the labels but does consider a gluten-free label as being important,” Gallardo says.
“It really illustrates the fact that the decision of which foods to buy and consume is very complex.”
Premium positionings take hold
FoodIngredientsFirst recently spoke with key suppliers on their latest launches to cut down on the ingredients list in a Special Report.
Responding to consumer demand for premium ready meal solutions, Kerry recently launched its Mansby Street Kitchen brand that offers luxury ready meals for two at an accessible price point.
Edited by Missy Green
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