Perceptions of processed foods among UK consumers

There is an inconsistency between the negative perceptions consumers have of processed foods and the fact that the same consumers purchase and consume an enormous quantity of it. A qualitative study conducted by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) in 2016 investigated this phenomenon, assessing the understanding and perceptions of processed foods among UK consumers.

The researchers wanted to identify:

  • What consumers understand about processed foods

  • Why consumers keep buying these products if their perceptions are usually negative

  • What their concerns and skepticism are focused on

  • What people want to know more about

  • Whether their perceptions changed after being provided with scientific information on processed foods.

It was an ambitious aim, which is why the researchers decided to conduct their survey in an engaging way. The study used an interactive online platform (Vizzata™ tool) that allowed researchers to interact directly with 71 participants, addressing their doubts and also asking more in-depth questions on the views and attitudes of this group of UK residents. First, they asked participants to fill in a questionnaire about their perceptions of processed foods. Then the participants were given some factual information about food processing, and encouraged to share their own thoughts as well as ask questions of the researchers. You may be wondering what type of information they were provided with. Well, it was very similar to what you have covered in the last three weeks of this course.

The researchers took the opportunity to explain the benefits of food processing, as we have done:

  • Making some foods edible

  • Making foods last longer

  • Improving nutrition

  • Increasing convenience, variety and choice

  • Decreasing price.

EUFIC researchers also provided some information about food additives and the reasons behind their use. Finally, the participants were given an example of a processed product that many of us consume without concern: olive oil.

The olive oil production process showing a forked path to the final product. Both paths involve milling of the olives. One path then involves pressing, which does not require heat, to produce oils by mechanical extraction. The other path involves heating and centrifugation followed by refining (purification) by physical and chemical methods, to produce the final product.

Figure 1. Olive oil production process. ©EUFIC

Click to expand

Participants had the opportunity to share their thoughts and answer some questions after being provided with this information.

Would you like to know the questions they were asked? In the next Step, you will have an opportunity to see the questions posed and provide your own answers. Just like the participants of the EUFIC study, you have been exposed to information on processed foods and we thought it would be interesting for you to compare your views with the results of the study.

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This article is from the free online course:

How is Food Made? Understanding Processed Food

EIT Food