An extra helping of health?

May 2010

Antioxidants in tea, additional vitamins in jam and probiotic cultures with complicated scientific names in yoghurts: healthy eating now seems to mean more than just five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Food supplements which transform meals into healing tonics can be found in many different products. How do Germans view these enriched foods and drinks? Do health-conscious people more frequently choose enriched foods than those who are not quite so concerned with their nutrition?

Healthy eating is on everyone’s lips, at least in theory: books, magazines, online forums and blogs are all domains for discussion about what we should ideally be consuming. A survey by the GfK Association on this topic has shown that healthy eating is a key issue for the majority of people. 70% generally watch what they eat, and a further 14% consider it extremely important. Women are more health-conscious than men, perhaps because the right eating habits can also be a step towards achieving a slimmer figure. Age also plays a part: more focus is placed on eating the right food from the mid-30s onwards. On the whole, health awareness is stable over the longer term. Although people were temporarily a little less concerned with healthy eating around the turn of the millennium, interest in the issue has increased again in recent years. Currently, only 4% of the population do not watch what they eat at all, whereas this figure was more than twice as high in 2001.

Vitamins take the lead

What is healthy eating? What rules are there beyond the “five-a-day” mantra? In addition to a broad range of dietary advice, the market offers a wide range of supplements to increase the nutritional value of food: vitamins, minerals, probiotic cultures and much more can be found on every supermarket shelf today, but not all supplements are equally popular with consumers. People are mostly likely to believe in the benefit of enriching food with vitamins and minerals. 68% rate these supplements as extremely or somewhat beneficial in each case, while less than 30% are skeptical. Vitamins and minerals also come out on top for familiarity, with the terms vitamin C and calcium not meaning anything to only 5% and 6% of consumers respectively.

Probiotic cultures in third place

On the popularity scale, third place is taken by probiotic cultures, which are advertised as helping to strengthen the body’s immune system and intestinal flora, for example. These products are regarded as somewhat or extremely beneficial by 60% of consumers. However, the percentage of those who are skeptical is also higher: 12% of respondents consider probiotic supplements completely unnecessary. One reason for this could be the critical reports receiving media attention. The authors state that the probiotic supplements are superfluous, as these expensive products do not actually bring any tangible benefit to the consumer.

However, the lowest level of approval is experienced by flavonoids, which are said to have an antioxidant effect. Only one in five consider them beneficial, while almost 60% of Germans regard the plant pigments as somewhat unnecessary or completely ineffective. This opinion is probably also influenced by the fact that, at best, many will only know this supplement by name. The term “flavonoid” means nothing to more than one in four respondents. In the mid-range of consumer acceptance are trace elements and carotenoids. More than one in three Germans view them as somewhat or completely unnecessary, but significantly more people appreciate their benefits.

Health-conscious people more likely to choose probiotics

The value that somebody places on healthy eating only influences their views on food supplements in some cases. Probiotic cultures are most likely to appeal to those consumers who are already keeping an eye on their nutrition. Nearly two out of three respondents in this group consider them beneficial or even extremely beneficial, and as a result more frequently add enriched yogurts to their fruit and vegetables in the shopping trolley. By way of comparison: among those not watching what they eat at all, the corresponding figure is significantly lower at 47%.

The picture is slightly different for vitamins, such as those added to drinks. There is a noticeable difference between those who closely watch what they eat and those who only pay general attention to their nutrition. One in three respondents who considers a healthy diet extremely important regards these supplements as unnecessary and probably prefers to choose fresh ingredients, which already contain vitamins. In contrast, those who, like most people, fluctuate in observing a healthy diet are less critical towards such product supplements. Only one in four respondents can be considered a skeptic in this category.

Supplements: healthiness made easy?

Although a number of consumers are cautious about some supplements, the majority see the benefits of these foods. At least, this is the case for well-known supplements like vitamins, minerals and probiotic cultures. Regardless of whether we are unable to find time during a stressful period, or want to make our lives a little easier, supplements seemingly make us feel we are doing something good for our bodies – without the effort of chopping up vegetables every time.


Data source: the GfK Association (Omnibus survey March 2010)
For questions please contact: claudia.gaspar@gfk-verein.org