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Product labelling key to consumer acceptance of HPP and PEF

By Rory Harrington , 13-Dec-2011
Last updated on 13-Dec-2011 at 13:56 GMT2011-12-13T13:56:05Z

Providing information on food labels about the processing method used in their manufacture can heighten consumer acceptance of high pressure processing (HPP) and pulsed electric field processing (PEF), according to new research.

Consumers’ perceptions of HPP and PEF Food Products, by Anne-Mette Sonne et al - found that consumers across four European countries were more likely to approve of the methods when the advantages of the technologies were spelled out on the product labels.

The scientists from Aarhus University, Denmark, Norwegian research institute Nofima and the Central Food Research Institute, Hungary, said the results echoed those in a similar Brazilian study from 2005.

“When the technology advantages were presented on the juice labels, participants understood the benefits and expressed a higher intention to purchase the product than in the cases where the technology was just stated by name (e.g. HPP treated),” said Sonne. “The implication is that when introducing HPP and PEF products in European markets it would be advisable to describe the technologies on the product labels.”

HPP preference

The study, which was part of the European Union–funded Novel Q project, asked 120 people from Hungary, Slovakia, Norway and Denmark to rank in order of preference cartoned apple juice that had been treated by HPP, PEF and pasteurised. Respondents were also quizzed on the reason s for their choices.

Juice treated by HPP was selected most frequently by consumers as their top preference in all countries, with PEF-treated juice most commonly ranked as second choice. Pasteurised juice was mostly the least preferred option.

“This is an interesting result since it indicates that consumers are positive towards juice produced by means of a new method that they consider to offer an advantage over a traditional processing method like pasteurization,” said the study.

Healthy option

The most frequently cited reasons for choosing HPP-processed juices were their perceived health benefits – with 64% of consumers highlighting the “high content of vitamins”. HPP also scored highly on its attribute of preserving taste, which respondents connected to influencing the naturalness and freshness of a product. HPP was also seen as being environmentally friendly.

While consumers from Northern and Eastern countries mentioned HPP as bringing different attributes– health and security – the researchers described this as “exciting” as both had positive implications.

PEF – a mixed response

Juices processed by PEF were seen as being healthier and the technique was also viewed as being eco-friendly.

However, the study found a more mixed reaction to PEF than HPP.

"The biggest difference between the perception of PEF and HPP can be seen in that the HPP juice was merely associated with positive consequences, whereas this picture is more nuanced in the case of PEF,” said Sonne. “While respondents appreciated some product attributes of the PEF treated juice, scepticism is expressed in the product attribute “made with electrical impulses” and “unknown method”.

Consumers were uncertain about possible long-term consequences for the body when consuming food products treated with electricity. It is an unknown method and there is a lack of information of how exactly this method influences the product, she added.

This doubt was most marked in respondents from Eastern European countries, said the research.

Pasteurised juice – although ranked lowest – was still seen as a healthy choice. However, the use of “Ifor pasteurised juice was seen as a negative in terms of nutrition, taste and quality.

But longer shelf life was viewed as a definite advantage over the HPP and PEF apple juice.

More information – the earlier the better

The study concluded that providing more information about technologies at an early stage appeared to be “key“ to achieving consumer acceptance of products manufactured by means of new technologies” – particularly regarding PEF.

“Hence, food producers and food scientists must provide the evidence that will convince consumers that this technology is safe to use in connection with food processing. Such information provision should occur in the early phases of introduction of these new technologies, as research on GMO acceptance has shown that information may have the opposite of the intended effect once attitudes have become more stable,” said Sonne.

Anne-Mette Sonne, Klaus Grunhurt, Nina Veflen Olsen, Britt Signe Granli, Erzsebet Szabo, Diana Banati, (2011) "Consumers’ perceptions of HPP and PEF food products", British Food Journal, Vol. 114 Iss: 1

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