Functional foods in Finland: Consumers' views, attitudes and willingness to use

Nina Urala

Research output: Book/ReportReport


New kinds of foods, so-called functional foods, have been developed and launched in recent years. They provide a novel approach to the idea of healthy eating by linking a single component with a certain health benefit in a single product. However, comprehensive knowledge on the dimensions behind the acceptance of functional foods is lacking and there is no clear understanding of the consumer's perceptions of single functional foods. In addition, it is not known how the dimensions describing functional foods in consumers' minds could explain consumers' willingness to use such foods. The general aim of this study was to investigate how functional foods are perceived in Finland, what kinds of dimensions underlie the acceptance of functional foods among Finns and could these dimensions be used as a tool in explaining consumers' willingness to use such foods. Seven data sets involving 4536 Finnish participants were included in this study between 1999 and 2004. As the health effects attached to food products cannot be perceived directly from the product itself, they have to be communicated to consumers. Usually, so-called health-related claims are used. The perception of different types of health-related claims, varying in their intensities, was studied by a survey (n = 958) in which respondents evaluated the perceived disadvantages/advantages of eight health-related claims. All claims were seen as advantages regardless the intensity level of the claim. Women and respondents who trusted the sources of food information reacted more positively towards the claims than men and non-trusting respondents, respectively. However, none of these groups viewed the claims negatively. Next, the reasons behind choosing or not choosing six functional foods were studied by laddering interviews (n = 50). The functional food products were not seen as one homogenous food category: the reasons for choosing functional foods varied within different food categories and the functional food choices in one product category did not correlate with choosing a functional food alternative in other categories. However, they were clearly seen as a member of the primary product group (yoghurts, for instance) and as a functional alternative for the conventional products in that particular category. The belief structures found in the hierarchical value maps were used as a basis of functional food-related statements that were monitored in three surveys representing the Finnish population (n = 1158, n = 1156 and n = 1113). Four dimensions describing the functional food-related attitudes were found: Reward from using functional foods (FF REW, 8 items), Necessity for functional foods (FF NEC, 8 items), Confidence in functional foods (FF CON, 4 items) and Safety of functional foods (FF SAF, 5 items). The attitudes towards functional foods had different weight depending on the functional food product, supporting the finding that the functional foods are not seen as a homogenous group. The perceived reward from using functional foods was evidently the best predictor of reported willingness to use such food products. The rewarding feeling was linked with personal use of functional foods, describing how the improved performance and mood, disease prevention and healthy lifestyle derived from the use of functional foods are perceived. Necessity focused on the necessity of functional foods as a concept and it was considered from society's perspective. The confidence in functional foods included trust in the science behind the health benefits and in the health effects that functional foods provide. The safety focused on the possible risks when functional foods are used. In functional food attitudes, there were no differences between men and women, nor were there differences based on respondents' age or education. In addition, the roles of hedonic liking and the perceived healthiness of functional foods were examined in two choice experiments (n = 41 and n = 60). Actual and expected hedonic liking clearly influenced the functional food choices, but the role of participants' background attitudes remained unclear. The functional foods were seen more as foods than as medicines. Functional foods seem to approach the status of conventionally healthy foods in Finland. This means that their benefits may become standard options of healthiness.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationEspoo
PublisherVTT Technical Research Centre of Finland
Number of pages79
ISBN (Electronic)951-38-6674-2
ISBN (Print)951-38-6673-4
Publication statusPublished - 2005
MoE publication typeD4 Published development or research report or study

Publication series

SeriesVTT Publications


  • functional foods
  • consumers
  • consumer behaviour
  • attitudes
  • health effects
  • acceptance
  • food choice
  • healthiness
  • liking


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