Confusing ingredients lead people to pay more for less-daunting food, study finds

CHICAGO — What the heck is maltodextrin? Simply not understanding the ingredients in a food product may lead a consumer to purchase a more expensive and easily identifiable option, a new study finds.

Researchers at Label Insight, a consumer goods transparency firm, surveyed over 1,000 American customers, hoping to determine how ingredient labels impacted purchase decisions.

Woman food shopping at grocery store
A new study finds that six in 10 people trust a brand less when they’re confused by the ingredients in a food products, and more than half would pay more for a product they understand.

One key takeaway was that 83 percent of respondents expressed feeling confused at least occasionally about the ingredients they saw on product labels.

An additional 45 percent said that they felt concern when they ate products with ingredients of which they were unaware.

Only about a third of consumers understood the exact meaning of buzzwords like “natural,” “healthy,” and “clean,” further calling into question the use of these kinds of words in product packaging.

When consumers feel puzzled about a particular ingredient, it can hurt a firm, the study found: 60 percent said that confusing or unrecognizable ingredients prompted them to trust a brand less.

Thirty-five percent of those surveyed said that they would simply opt not to buy a product if the ingredient label was confusing, while nearly two-thirds said they would be willing to turn to another product.

As for solutions, an overwhelming 95 percent of respondents said that they’d like technology, such as an app, that would allow them to view detailed product and ingredient info on their phone while in-store.

“Consumer demand for product transparency is on the rise, and when brands and retailers fail to deliver, it erodes brand trust,” says Kira Karapetian, Label Insight’s VP of Marketing, in a press release. “This study reveals that consumers are not only confused by the ingredients in their food, but willing to adjust their buying habits in order to better understand what they are eating and drinking.”

Karapetian notes the collaborative efforts of many companies, such as the SmartLabel initiative, that have enabled customers to make better beverage and food choices.

The study’s complete findings can be found here.