Over the years, global food system has undergone drastic changes. Along with genetic modification, food is increasingly laden with additives such as artificial flavours and colours, in order to stimulate consumers’ senses and for practical ends like increasing their shelf life.
It has rapidly become common knowledge that additives like food colouring and enhancers serve to improve the smell, tastes and aesthetics of food products. Without them, people often believe that the way the food is perceived or stored, for example, might be adversely affected. However, this perception can be misguided.
According to Kathryn Lee, secretary-general of the Asia Pacific Anti-Additive Association (A. A.), Taiwan, “Lots of people believe that colouring and enhancers make the food look good, smell nice, and taste delicious. On the contrary, without artificial additives, food products look less colourful and will affect their tastes. Actually, this is not the case.”
With the use of additives, she cited that it is necessary to fully understand their function(s) in the products—thereby also determining if these substances are completely necessary.
This is where the Asia Pacific Anti-Additive Association comes into play. It acts as a platform which takes into consideration the interests of both businesses and consumers. In order to make ideal recommendations for consumers, the association draws upon education to raise awareness. Consumers need to be aware of the product origin and production processes, for example, in order to make informed decisions on their consumption choices.
Factors Influencing Consumer Decisions
In modern society, different types and degrees of media representation can serve to accurately or otherwise inform consumers regarding their food options. While some media outlets act in the interest of consumers, others are governed by factors which might not place end-users at the top of their priority lists.
The situation becomes more complex with the inclusion of marketing strategies—especially those among major brands and companies which have the most access to promotional resources. Brand and/or product promotion can serve to mask the actual voices of products in the market. This results in a situation where accurate information becomes less accessible to consumers under the influence of marketing, and subsequently influence consumer options.
It is therefore necessary for consumers to be sufficiently educated regarding the use of food additives to ensure that eventual informed decisions are made at the point-of-purchase. While “clean label” products free from additives can sometimes be priced higher compared to other choices on supermarket shelves, there is a significant segment of consumers who are able and willing to pay the extra price for the benefits of these claims.
Essential to the mission of A. A. is to conduct educational conferences at different venues targeted at different segments of the population, including those which are not related to the food industry. This is because consumers from these sectors, albeit having insufficient awareness towards this, are predominantly individuals with substantial spending power.
The association is targeted at ensuring that all levels of manufacturing conform to the association’s principles of using additives—based on the objective of calling for a more conscious food system on both the manufacturing and consumer parts. Qualified manufacturers are then entitled to marketing resources for their products.
So, are companies open to the anti-additive movement or do they prefer to stick to existing recipes?
From A Business Standpoint
In the Asia Pacific region, there is generally low public awareness among businesses to adopt the approach towards anti-additive products. Initial reception was not overwhelming, but in recent times there has been a growth in the number of businesses that are enthusiastic to participate in the anti-additive shift. These businesses need to balance profit and also produce quality products.
Currently, there is insufficient impetus for businesses to pursue the anti-additive move, and the association serves to provide the motivation towards this cause by showing companies where the markets are.
This effort constitutes educating consumers on terms like “additive-free” and “clean label product”—predominantly used in Europe—which can be ambiguous. Once consumers understand the implications of these labels, they can then be rallied into a market that more voraciously consumes such products.
“Anti-Additive” can be perceived as an intimidating and sensitive issue, but A. A. is seeking to ensure that appropriate principles are in place to maintain fairness in food assessment. Despite global technological advancement, certain industries are not currently equipped technically to completely avoid artificial additives. One example is the use of additives as preservatives, in which alternative solutions do not exist at present.