IFIC surveys American consumers on ingredient attitudes

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of adults say the ingredients in a food or beverage have at least a moderate influence on what they buy

A recent survey done by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) has explored the role of ingredients in the food attitudes and purchasing habits of American consumers. The survey results indicate “clean” ingredients are popular and health is paramount.

Nearly two-thirds (63%) of adults say the ingredients in a food or beverage have at least a moderate influence on what they buy.

When shopping, consumers overwhelmingly look at products themselves for information about their ingredients: 62% consult the ingredients list and 52% look at front-of-package information. Other sources of information trail far behind, including companies’ official social media and websites.

For more general information about food ingredients, 20% of respondents said family and friends are their top source, followed by websites or social media accounts of brands/companies (19%), the top articles shown after an online search (18%). 4% of Americans cite food/nutrition social media influencers or bloggers as their top source of food ingredient information.

Consumer attentiveness is also reportedly growing, with 62% of respondents saying they are paying more attention to ingredient lists now than they did five years ago.

The survey found pluralities of consumer support for the benefits of preservatives: 42% agree that adding preservatives to foods is a way to help reduce food waste, while 21% disagree, and 39% agree that adding an ingredient to a food would be positive if it extended shelf life compared to 23% who disagreed.

About half (48%) of the participants said they seek out natural flavours at least some of the time, 41% seek out natural sweeteners, 40% seek out natural preservatives and 35% seek out colours from natural sources. In contrast, roughly one in 10 consumers seek out artificial flavours, colours, sweeteners and preservatives, with half saying they avoid each of them at least some of the time.

Survey respondents were also asked about their attitudes toward and definitions of “clean” ingredients and clean eating.

Nearly 2 in 3 survey takers (64%) said they try to choose foods made with clean ingredients. When these individuals were asked how they define clean ingredients, 22% said “not artificial or synthetic,” while 16% chose “organic” and 15% chose “fresh”.

Nearly half (46%) of respondents consider themselves to be clean eaters, with 21% ranking “eating foods that aren’t highly processed” as their top definition of the term. Another 14% of self-described clean eaters defined it as eating foods found in the fresh produce section, 13% as eating organic foods, 11% as eating foods with simple ingredients lists and 9% defined it as eating foods with ingredients they just consider to be “clean.”

Of those who choose foods and beverages with clean ingredients, a quarter said their top motivation for doing so was seeking out health benefits from foods and beverages with clean ingredients, while 21% are looking to avoid the possible harmful effects of chemical-sounding ingredients and 18% want to avoid the possible harmful effects of unfamiliar ingredients.

Health-related factors also dominated the list of reasons consumers avoid ingredients with chemical-sounding names. 26% chose general health concerns for themselves as the top reason and 20% chose general health concerns for their family.

Survey results were derived from online interviews of 1,054 Americans ages 18+, done May 6–10, 2021. The results were weighted to ensure proportionate results.

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