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Cross-cultural study explores limits of healthy cheese and yoghurt

By Guy Montague-Jones , 09-Apr-2010

Manufacturers should be wary about cutting too much fat from cheese and too much sugar from yoghurt, according to new cross-cultural research.

People are interested in healthier products with reduced fat and sugar content but if manufacturers compromise too much on taste they risk losing custom.

This is one of the key findings from a study of young consumers in Norway, Denmark, and the US conducted by Nofima PhD student Susanne Bølling Johansen.

Health and taste

To test consumer attitudes to low fat cheese, Johansen gave young people a group of six cheeses with a fat content of between 5 and 17 per cent without initially telling them that the products were low in fat.

When Johansen told the consumers about the fat content, the researcher found that they were much less likely to accept the products that had an exceptionally low fat content.

Similar results were observed with regards to the sugar content of yoghurts. So what are the lessons for manufactures? Johansen said: “We found that the nutritional information has a significance and that this effect is independent of the strength of the sensory properties.”

But she did tell DairyReporter.com that while consumers do want products with lower fat and sugar, manufacturers should make reductions gradual and avoid compromising too much on taste.

Cultural difference

Johansen said the cross-cultural research also revealed interesting differences in attitudes between consumers in the US, Norway, and Denmark.

Consumers in the different countries were invited to rank various products on a sliding scale according their perceived health value. This revealed different cultural attitudes towards foods.

For example, in the US where low fat cheese is very common, consumers did not rank it as highly on the health scale as they did in Scandinavia. Johansen said that people in Norway and Scandinavia who are not used to low fat cheese were more likely to consider it as a healthy option than US consumers who view it as a standard product.

Johansen said another interesting finding was how sensitive consumers appeared to be to media reports about food and health. For example, in Norway, where the sugar content of yoghurts has received a lot of media attention, people were less likely to view yoghurt as a healthy product.

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