Functional Foods – Yes or No?

a drink at the beach

People’s motivations are complex. The only reason for purchasing a functional food over any other type of food would be the health benefits offered by the product. Functional foods by definition claim to have some added benefit, whether it may be an added ingredient or a part of another fruit or vegetable, which could have a positive effect on our health. Examples of functional foods would be the polyphenols and probiotics in fruits and yoghurt, or vitamin-enhanced foods (Functional Foods Research in ARS, the United States Department of Agriculture).

Naturally a person wanting to take better care of their body would be attracted to that product and decides to buy it. If I’m feeling bloated or constipated, I might be persuaded to buy an often-advertised yoghurt that claims to reduce these uncomfortable feelings. This is an example of a personal factor or a person’s consumer behavior being influenced by the availability of a product offering added benefits. But is this the only reason for choosing one type of product over another?

Pearson et. al in their paper ‘What we Know (and do not Know) About Consumers’ suggested that people may choose to get a certain product due to impressions of better quality and fashionability from the product. In terms of quality, the buyer does not just believe that the item will do what it advertises, but believes that it will do it better than any other brand.

In addition to this belief, there is also the reasoning that not all products are equal in terms of how much of the special ingredient they add. Those with some nutritional knowledge will know that the amount of ingredients used in different lines of the same product, change according to the brand. Therefore an ordinary apple may have just the right amount of cancer fighting nutrients, but it will be overlooked if the apple with ‘Enhanced!’, ‘Added!’, or ‘Extra!’ nutrients is on the shelf right next to it.

Some of us buy products just because they see other people doing so. These people are less likely to believe in the messages of salvation being preached by the foods they buy, but are nevertheless prejudiced by what is happening around them. Therefore a consumer will buy something just because everyone else is doing it, with the belief that if other people are buying it, then there must be some benefit to it!

So far, these functional foods affect consumer psychology in ways that are no different than any product. They seem to influence through belief and perception, fears about health and longevity and desires for quality and something to trust.

What we Know (and do not Know) About Consumers’, David Pearson, Joanna Henryks, and Hannah Jones – Functional Foods Research in ARS, the United States Department of Agriculture (

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