How Consumers Feel about Food and Nutrition Messages

What do consumers really think about food and nutrition? To find out, the International Food Information Council (IFIC) conducted qualitative consumer research.

Qualitative research is an important consumer research tool that can lead to a better understanding of consumer perceptions of and attitudes toward food and nutrition information. This understanding can then be used to create meaningful nutrition messages and tips.

In 1998 and 1999, IFIC conducted focus groups—which are commonly used in qualitative research—with consumers to explore opportunities and assess the barriers that consumers experience in adopting healthy diets. Then, IFIC listened to how consumers felt about food and nutrition.

In the first phase of the research, focus groups were conducted to learn about consumer attitudes toward nutrition information. Based on these findings, messages on dietary fats and on sweet foods and beverages were developed. Then specific nutrition concepts and tips on dietary fats and on sweet foods and beverages were presented to consumers to see which messages they thought were most meaningful and actionable. Finally, messages were tested with those who would be delivering them: health professionals. Focus groups were conducted with registered dietitians, and their feedback was used to ensure the accuracy and usefulness of the messages.

Here are some highlights from the research:

  • Consumers often found existing information on diet and nutrition to be confusing.
  • Consumers expressed negative feelings when they thought about their own diet. Guilt, worry, helplessness, anger, and fear were the most frequently expressed emotions.
  • Consumers felt messages that messages that were positive in tone were to be more likely to be motivating and alleviate confusion about nutrition.
  • Dietitians believed that consumers might be more receptive to messages that were positive in tone if the messages were provided to them in the right context.
  • Dietitians thought that the messages could be useful to them in their work.