- Consumers tend to view less-processed foods—like yogurt, whole fruit and whole nuts—as healthier and having fewer calories than more processed foods—like fruit-blended yogurt or peanut butter—according to a study that will be published in Food Quality and Preference later this year. Researchers called this "the blender effect."
- The experimental studies found this correlation based on consumers' perceptions after researchers changed the physical state of a food product, a food pictured on a package or a food on display.
- "Healthiness and calorie perceptions are not linked to a specific physical state, but are influenced by the degree of mechanical processing suggested by the physical state, with greater levels of mechanical processing leading food to be perceived as less healthy and higher in calories," according to the study's abstract.
Such findings are critical for processed foods companies as they determine ways to align their products with consumers' current interpretations of "healthy" foods and beverages. In this case, the method of processing and presentation stands alongside ingredient choices in terms of influencing consumers' perceptions.
In other words, if a manufacturer reformulates a product with healthy ingredients but still uses several mechanical processes to produce the finished food or beverage, consumers may still see the product as unhealthy. For example, this challenge could impact the canned soup segment, even if the ingredients themselves are "natural" and left relatively intact, because consumers still perceive canned soup as being highly processed.
Manufacturers have found innovative ways to dodge certain processing concerns. One has been the method of processing used, such as cold-pressed beverages and high-pressure processing becoming more popular in the natural and organic space. Another is product developments like Chobani Flip, which separates mix-ins from the Greek yogurt itself. This diversifies flavor options while removing one step of "processing" on the manufacturer's end that might otherwise dissuade health-conscious consumers.
Packaging may also play a role in influencing how processed a food seems in the minds of consumers. Canned soup and several other processed and packaged foods come in opaque packaging, like metal cans and paper boxes.
However, clear packaging has become more popular among manufacturers and consumers alike because it allows consumers to see what the food or beverage itself looks like. At the same time, clear packaging can boost the perception of a brand's transparency while enabling the manufacturer to demonstrate appealing visual characteristics of a product. That might include the use of whole produce, which suggests a less processed product.