Preservatives have a poor reputation among consumers – but that doesn’t mean that natural options are completely off the menu, says Nicole Patterson-Lett, principal analyst at Leatherhead Food Research.
Speaking at the FIE conference in Frankfurt last week, she presented the organisation’s latest research on consumer attitudes to preservatives – including natural preservatives – and how they have changed over the past ten years.
“Natural preservatives are almost an oxymoron. The two things don’t go together,” she said, adding that when thinking about preservatives in general, “there is a tendency toward the negative”.
For half of consumers, their attitudes to preservatives had not changed in the past ten years, she said, while 31% felt less positively toward them, and 19% felt more positive.
However, she said there was a need for a lot more education on preservatives, as almost half of consumers (47%) admitted they didn’t feel they knew enough about them, and 54% automatically considered preservatives to be artificial.
In fact, there is a wide range of natural preservatives now available to food formulators, although they may still have technical limitations.
Treats, yes…kids’ products, no…
“There’s some consumer acceptance that they are necessary in some food and drinks,” she said, although overall acceptance depended on the application.
“People felt more negatively about preservatives in products they eat every day – and generally more positive in products that are ‘treat products’ only eaten occasionally….There is much more negativity towards preservatives in products for children.”
Most consumers (58%) said they hoped foods and drinks would contain fewer preservatives in the future, but there was some acceptance of natural preservatives.
“Sixty-seven per cent said that if a product was labelled as natural, then it would only contain natural preservatives. However, they didn’t expect there to be no preservatives at all,” she said.
Consumers also understood that they would need to make some compromises in terms of shelf life, cost and the appearance of foods if they wanted to avoid artificial preservatives.
Fifty-seven per cent said they would be prepared to pay more for natural preservatives, while 82% said they would accept a shorter shelf life, and 76% said they were willing to accept a less visually attractive product.
“Only 14% said they thought preservatives were completely unnecessary in foods and drinks,” shesaid.
“There’s not really an understanding of the shorter shelf life for the consumer. They are not really understanding the logistics, or the inconvenience, or the massive wastage of it, or the sustainability issues. The trend at the moment is all about freshness and that is all good to them…There is a lot more education to be done on preservatives.”