Fresh juice with long shelf life must win over consumers

February 11, 2013 - 06:58

New technology gives freshly-squeezed juice a long shelf life and can retain its natural flavour, but consumers are sceptical.

Nofima research scientist Nina Veflen Olsen has been looking at consumer attitudes to new processing technologies. (Photo: Kjell J. Merok, Nofima)

High-pressure processing (HPP) and pulsed electric field processing (PEF) are new technologies that can prolong juice life. 

Researchers at the food research institute Nofima have looked at consumer attitudes towards new and unknown food technologies.

Uncertain consumers

The most common cause of consumer scepticism is that these methods are unknown. People are uncertain whether the food products are safe.

While the food producers focus on technological innovation and applaud new scientific developments, consumers tend to be more conservative and sceptical.

This is a well-known phenomenon, called the halo effect. The more often a product is demonstrated, the better people like it.

This effect might have roots in evolution: if you eat something new and survive, you are less afraid of eating it again.

"The halo effect should make food producers careful about promoting all aspects of new technologies, especially the ones that could lead to uncertainty in the consumers. If they start to use HPP and PEF, it is better to say how much the new technologies improve flavour, rather than the juice being processed in a new way," says Nofima research scientist Nina Veflen Olsen, who headed the study.

Different values need different arguments

Consumers can be divided into segments, according to their basic values. Two value segments in particular stood out in this study:

1. Hedonism – those who are more concerned about well-being and enjoyment than anything else

2. Benevolence – those who are concerned about the welfare of their family and friends.

"We found that people's arguments for choosing HPP and PEF products varied between these segments," says Veflen Olsen.

"Not surprisingly, the hedonists were most interested in a better flavour and preferred arguments such as 'an apple juice that tastes and smells like fresh apples' and 'keeps the natural flavours'. The benevolent consumers, on the other hand, are more concerned about health and environmental considerations. The important arguments for them are 'uses less water and energy', 'careful processing', 'no additives' and 'high in vitamins'".

Taste before buying

Giving consumers information about new technologies can be a two-edged sword.

"People say they want information, but the more we talk about new technology, the less they want to buy. The information draws attention to areas they had not originally thought about," explains Veflen Olsen.

The solution is to emphasise the products' positive qualities and to give consumers the chance to try them. The surest way to gain acceptance is the consumers' own positive experience. Food producers who want to convince consumers that their product is better should let people try it. If people like the way it tastes, many of the doubts will disappear.

"Even when people start out as negative to new technological methods, when they get the chance to taste the products, and find out that they taste better, there is a much greater chance that they will buy," says Veflen Olsen.

As well as offering samples to taste, it is important to get information out at an early stage of the introduction. Uncertainty can create prejudice, which is much harder to deal with once attitudes have been established.

"This is about instilling positive attitudes to a technology. GMOs are an example of a technology that is struggling to gain acceptance, while organic production has managed far better," concludes Veflen Olsen.

Country

Further details

The studies of consumer attitudes to new processing technologies are part of an EU project called NovelQ. Universities and research institutions in Norway, Denmark, Hungary and the Netherlands have participated.

HPP: High-pressure processing is a method for processing food products without using heat. The food is exposed to high pressure, which makes most micro-organisms inactive by destroying cell membranes and other parts of their cells.

PEF is another method for processing food without using heat. Electrical impulses are sent through the food. The effect, once again, is to destroy parts of the cells of micro-organisms, thus rendering them inactive. PEF can only be used on fluids.

Nofima is a business oriented research institute working in research and development for the aquaculture, fisheries and food industry in Norway. Read more

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