Tuesday, February 07, 2012: 08:37:43 PM

Food Processing Guest Column

Indian consumer’s awareness of processed food - Dolly Kumar, GAIA

The Indian consumer’s knowledge of food products grows as processed food sector thrives

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The processed food substitute industry has grown manifold over the last decade due to a growing demand for healthy substitutes of daily consumables. Living in a country that thrives on oily food, Indian consumers today are increasingly becoming health conscious and actually read the label before purchasing the product.

Importance of labelling
In the age of the smart consumer, labelling of consumer products is highly significant to state their ingredients and nutritional information. With the help of labelling, safety concerns such as presence or absence of allergens can also be verified. Existence of labelling allows consumers to verify health claims made by the company and may prevent them from making false product qualifications.
Provision and use of nutritional information can significantly change dietary patterns of consumers. Research has shown that paying attention to nutritional labels contributes to a better dietary intake.
Labelling becomes even more relevant in cases where common name no longer adequately describes the food derived from genetically modified plants.
Since there is a considerable rise in the amount of awareness related to health and nutrition amongst consumers, labelling plays a major role in helping the consumer make the right food choice. Because of this they are more likely to rely on ingredient and nutritional information of the product while making food purchase decisions.
Mandatory labelling could also improve food products as producers would be forced to reformulate their products according to the label claims made by them.
Domestic, international consumer
In India, consumer awareness of fortified/functional food products is relatively low compared to their foreign counterparts. International customers show a higher level of nutritional awareness about the information mentioned on food labels. This could be due to the fact that product information and nutrition values are stated in English on most of the product labels in India which makes it difficult to comprehend in a nation where the most widely used language is not English.
In countries like Japan, China and many European and Arabic countries, the product information for most products are given in their respective local languages. Also, the processed food market in India is still at a nascent stage and product knowledge and awareness needs to be widespread for better product sales and promotion.
Culturally, Indians have a preference for home cooked food prepared with traditional spices and fresh products. But these food habits are changing rapidly due to Western influences and major lifestyle changes.
Indians are more prone to chronic diseases like heart diseases and diabetes due to their bad food habits and sedentary lifestyles. This condition stems from the fact that the level of awareness about the relationship between their diets and the diseases caused due to them is comparatively low. Awareness about this diet-disease relationship is high amongst consumers from western countries.
Another important aspect that comes into light is that Indian consumers are more influenced by the price, packaging and advertising of the product instead of its nutritional benefits. Even if basic awareness is there, more emphasis is given to the calorie and fat contents instead of other important factors like the amount of vitamins and minerals.
The amount of public campaigns and researches that are conducted in relation to the food value or quality of processed food products available in India is almost negligible. Hence, there needs to be a change in the mindset of the people and conscious awareness has to be induced for a better, healthier living experience.
Dolly Kumar is the director of GAIA.

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