Ingredients influence the food purchasing choices of 63% of U.S. consumers in a big or moderate way, according to Consumer Perspectives on Food Ingredients from the International Food Information Council (IFIC). The survey looked at how ingredients affect attitudes about food and purchasing habits.

Ingredients are slightly more likely to influence women than men and have more sway with people as income, age, or education increases.

Most people say they examine ingredient lists and choose clean ingredients, while avoiding chemical-sounding ones: 

  • Pay more attention to the ingredient list than five years ago: 63% strongly or somewhat agree
  • Look for foods and beverages with clean ingredients when shopping in person: 58% strongly or somewhat agree (48% when shopping online)
  • Try to avoid buying foods or beverages with chemical-sounding ingredients: 56% strongly or somewhat agree

The most common definitions of clean ingredients were “not artificial or synthetic” (22%), “organic” (16%), “fresh” (15%), “something I know as nutritious” (14%), and “natural” (14%). Consumers far prefer natural flavors, preservatives, sweeteners, and colors over artificial ones.

Forty-six percent of respondents consider themselves a “clean eater.” Almost half of them define clean eating as consuming not-highly-processed foods. Other definitions that were important include eating fresh produce, buying organic, and looking for simple ingredient lists.

The top motivator for choosing products with clean ingredients is health benefits (25%), followed by avoiding possible harmful effects of chemical-sounding ingredients (21%). Other motivators include avoiding potential harm from unfamiliar ingredients, wanting to be familiar with what’s in a product, and believing clean ingredients are more nutritious. 

Top motivations for avoiding chemical-sounding ingredients are general health concerns for self (26%) and family (20%). Other reasons include cancer, consuming unfamiliar ingredients, digestive issues, and environmental concerns.

Of those who look for clean ingredients, 31% say the most influential factor when shopping for foods and beverages is general healthfulness, while 20% say they’re most influenced by clean ingredients. Taste and price come in at 19% and 18%, respectively.

For information about ingredients in a product, most consumers rely on the ingredient list and front-of-package information when shopping. Only 20% look at a company’s website or social media, and only 8% use the QR code on the package. However, to learn more about a specific ingredient, consumers turn most frequently to friends/family and online searches, while some people ask their healthcare provider.

Based on the report, how companies name and describe their ingredients can make a big difference in whether a consumer buys or passes by a product.

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