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Examination of skin-fermented natural wines

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Examination of skin-fermented natural wines


Received: May 2022 – Accepted: July 2022


1 Tokaj-Hegyalja Egyetem, Lorántffy Intézet, Szőlészeti és Borászati Tanszék
2 Pannon Egyetem, Soós Ernő Kutató- Fejlesztő Központ, Víztechnológiai Kutatócsoport


amphora, qvevri, ceramic egg, organic production, antioxidants, NMR analysis, quercetin, procyanidins, catechins, caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid, galacturonic acid, succinic acid, caftaric acid, tartaric acid, malic acid, hydroxycinnamic acid

1. Summary

The ancient white wine making technology, the “qvevri”, is gaining more and more attention among consumers, not only because it is unique and special, but also because sustainability and closeness to nature are fundamental characteristics of this winemaking process. All of this is demonstrated by the fact that this ancient Georgian process using traditional clay vessels was added to the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013, and in 2020, The International Organisation of Vine and Wine (OIV) included skin-fermented white wine in the category of special wines. This wave is also present in Hungary, since “natural” wine and “orange wine” have already appeared in a 2021 law as „Other restricted terms”. The essence of the winemaking process is skin-contact fermentation and microoxidation, for which a number of vessels can be used: amphoras or qvevris, ceramic eggs or spin barrels, as a function of which the chemical composition of the wines may vary, as well as the formation of the precursor compounds of the aroma components. In this study, natural wines produced in the Tokaj wine region, using amphoras and ceramic egg vessels were examined.

2. Introduction

Today, the philosophy of natural winemaking has grown into a movement, finding producers and consumers in many countries. According to their philosophy, winemaking society had never before used so many pesticides to protect grapes, so many winemaking aids and preservatives, as today, which is extremely harmful to both wildlife and flora, and this is not sustainable farming. It is necessary to return to the roots, to the winemaking practice of ancient times, when winemaking was an art and the wines produced this way had a soul, combining the spirit of the place of production with the artistic world of the winemaker. This is especially true for the world of amphora wines made in the South Caucasus [1].

The counterargument that often arises against these products is that, on the one hand, they are not microbiologically stable, since no technological operations are carried out that would reduce the amount of microorganisms entering from the grapes and proliferating in the must and wine and, on the other hand, there is no adequate plant protection activity in the grapes against pathogens (e.g., black rot) that lead to a changed chemical composition and may produce mycotoxins. Another factor of concern that only a limited amount of test results is available on the migration properties of the various storage vessels.

3. Literature review

3.1. The concept of natural wine, the peculiarities of its production

The roots of the natural winemaking movement can be traced back to 1978, when Marcel Lapierre and Julet Chauvet first made wines free of sulfur and additives in Beaujolais, France [2].

Commonly used names for natural wines include low-intervention wine, naked wine and raw wine, which refer to the rules used during their production.

In March 2020, a Charter formulating the regulation for natural wines and the official name „vin méthode nature” were adopted by the French ministry of Agriculture, the INAO (Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité, the National Institute of Origin and Quality) and the DGCCRF (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes, the General Directorate for Competition Policy, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control), together with the Association of Natural Wines.

3.1.1. Most important characteristics of natural wines:

  1. Must be produced from grapes that are certified organic (EU or Nature&Progrés) or come from a vineyard that is at least in the second year of transition;
  2. The grapes intended for winemaking may only be harvested by hand;
  3. Only spontaneous fermentation processes may be used;
  4. The use of additives is prohibited;
  5. No modification of the composition of the grapes (increase in acid or alcohol content) is allowed;
  6. No procedures classified as “rough” are allowed (e.g., filtration, tangential filtration, flash pasteurization, heat treatment, reverse osmosis);
  7. Addition of sulfur before or during fermentation is prohibited;
  8. Depending on the use of sulfur, producers can use two types of logos on the labels: „without added sulfur” or „less than 30 mg/l sulfur added”;
  9. Lots that are not considered natural wines must be clearly distinguishable (differentiated labeling), thus avoiding consumer deception [2].

3.2. Skin-fermented white wines

A special category of natural wines is skin-fermented white wines, often called qvevri, amphora, amber or orange wines. As a result of changing trends, older, traditional styles are starting to appear among winemakers as well. The popularity of skin-fermented white wines is constantly increasing, similarly to the ever-increasing demand for natural wines. Additionally, orange wines represent a special category because, due to skin-contact fermentation, they simultaneously carry the flavors typical of white wines and the texture and tannins characteristic of red wines [3]. Consumers especially like it when the flavor of the wine is enriched with a special aroma range by the storage vessel, so more and more winemakers use ceramic eggs and amphoras. This technology has many followers in France, Portugal, the USA, Italy, Slovenia and Austria [4, 5, 6, 7, 8]. The most important distinguishing features are different color (from deep yellow to amber), increased polyphenol content [9, 10, 11], the formation of volatile compounds (vanilla, roasted peanuts, walnuts) [12, 7] and the appearance of mineral notes [13, 14].

The duration of contact with the skin plays a particularly important role not only during fermentation, but also during the subsequent maturation. A long contact time with the skin promotes the dissolution of both phenolic and mineral substances. Procyanidins and catechins, which are important from an oenological point of view, occur in the skin, the seeds and the stem, while simple phenols (caffeic acid, p-coumaric acid) are found in the highest concentration in the berry flesh. As a result of skin-contact soaking for as long as possible, increasing alcohol concentration and the continuously increasing temperature during fermentation, the proportion of tannins in the wine from the seeds also increases. This process may be related to the improved permeability and/or rupture of the cells that contain the phenolic substances. If the fermented new wine is kept on the skin for a longer time after the completion of the fermentation, tannins from the seeds become dominant in its composition and the proportion of polymeric pigments increases [15, 16]. Several research have been published on the effect of the place of production [17], the grape variety [18] and the grapevine load [19] on the phenolic composition of musts and wines.

Among polyphenols, quercetin and shikimic acid are of outstanding importance. Quercetin is found in amounts of 10 to 20 mg/l and shikimic acid in amounts of 30 to 50 mg/l in white wines. The head of the Wine and Health Committee of the International Organisation of Vine and Wine drew attention to this after it had become known that these two compounds are the main active ingredients of the drug Tamiflu, which is used as an antidote to avian flu and is made from Chinese star anise extract. This was another argument for the beneficial effect of white wine consumption [20].

3.3. Special storage vessels

3.3.1. Amphora

They are made in many places all around the world, each master potter uses a unique process and raw material, and the shapes are often different. In Hungary, the works of a domestic potter are the most widespread, the raw material of his amphoras is a fire-resistant material, which is made thinner with chamotte made from its own material. They are solid, with a shell-like fracture surface, the raw materials are fire-resistant clays that burn to color and which, after firing at 1,200 to 1,250 °C, turn into pots resistant to acids and alkalis, with a water absorption of less than 4% (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Plain amphora [21]

Most important characteristics of amphora use:

  • As opposed to metal containers, microoxidation takes place in the amphora;
  • While wooden barrels leave a strong mark on the aroma and taste of the wines, the character of the grape variety and the terroir prevails in the amphoras;
  • In the amphoras, the specific characteristics of the grape variety which are otherwise covered by conventional winemaking processes (e.g., the herbal flavor of the Furmint grape variety) become more prominent;
  • Terracotta amphoras are made from minerals that are similar in composition to that of the vine soil, and which are absorbed by the vines during their life, which means that during fermentation and maturation the grapes end up in a chemical environment similar to the one they were in while on the vine; making wine in amphoras thus enhances the mineral notes in the wines;
  • The effective thermal insulation of the amphora continuously ensures that the fermentation process takes place under balanced temperature conditions.

3.3.2. Ceramic egg

The ceramic egg is an egg-shaped vessel based on a cement material that is widespread in Australia. An Australian company that sells its products for wine fermentation and storage worldwide has gained a good reputation among ceramic egg manufacturers. The Australian vessels have a wall thickness of 11-12 mm, a volume of 675 liters and a tare weight of 180 kg. They are fired at 1,285 oC for 42 hours, which ensures the special microporous structure of the vessel’s wall. The shape of the inverted egg ensures a special material flow, which guarantees the beneficial mixing of the fermenting must stored in it (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Ceramic egg in a winery in Tállya (Source: own photo)

4. Materials and methods

4.1. Comparative analysis of natural wines of the same vintage when using ceramic eggs and clay amphoras

Table 1 contains the data on the origin of the examined wines. In the winery operating in Tállya, natural winemaking technology is used for the preparation of the wines. The grape growing areas are located on the border of Tállya and Mád in eight vineyards, with Furmint and Hárslevelű varieties cultivated in integrated farming. They strive to use as little pesticides as possible and use no absorbable active ingredients at all. Their wines undergo spontaneous fermentation, no wine processing agents are used, and the wines are made and bottles without sulfur. For fermentation, the Australian ceramic eggs described above are used.

Furmint wine was made from organic grapes in a winery in Bodrogkeresztúr. Fermentation was carried out in a black clay amphora from Hungary (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Anthracite amphora in a Tokaj winery (Source: own photo)

One of the characteristic white grape varieties of the Savoie wine region in France is Roussette de Savoie (named after the French word for „rust”), which shows many similarities with the Furmint grape variety in terms of its ampelographic properties. Genetic tests have not confirmed the familial relationship, but in recent years the Altesse variety has appeared all over Europe in various wine regions famous for their sweet wines. The raw material which was processed at the Tokaj Wine Region’s Research Institute for Viticulture and Oenology and fermented in a clay amphora comes from the Lencsés vineyard in Tokaj.

Table 1. Origin of the wine samples used in the analysis

The chemical composition was examined with large instrument analysis (NMR - Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) in the Szerencs laboratory of Diagnosticum Zrt.

H NMR technique [22]: H NMR spectra were recorded at 26.85 °C with a Bruker AVANCE 400 spectrometer and a 400’54 ASCEND magnet system (Bruker, Karlsruhe, Germany) in proton NMR mode at a frequency of 400.13 MHz. For targeted analysis, sample preparation and analytical parameters were as follows: pH adjustment to pH 3.1 with an automatic BTPH system, addition of deuterium and tetramethylsilane, relaxation delay 4 s, sampling time 3.98 s, spectral width: 8223.68 Hz.

For the statistical analysis of the data, MANOVA and independence tests and IBM Corp. 2016 SPSS Statistics for Windows, Version 23.0. Armonk, NY (USA) software were used.

5. Analytical results

5.1. NMR analysis of natural wines made in ceramic eggs and amphoras

The results are shown in Table 2.

Table 2. Chemical composition of the wine samples and the data of the relevant NMR reference database compared to white wines produced in a conventional way

In comparison with the analytical values of the white wines included in the database of Bruker BioSpin GmbH and made with the normal white wine making process, it can be stated that the examined skin-fermented white wines had a lower content of tartaric acid and a higher content of citric acid, galacturonic acid, succinic acid and caftaric acid. Tartaric acid, malic acid and citric acid come from the grapes, while galacturonic acid and succinic acid are formed during fermentation. The results show that by the end of the fermentation, a greater part of tartaric acid is removed in the form of tartar than in the case of a normal white wine, and malic acid can also break down due to the presence of the natural lactic acid bacterial flora. Shikimic acid, to which a beneficial physiological effect is attributed, turned out to be characteristic of the variety, because a significant concentration difference compared to the other wine samples could only be measured in the case of the Altesse amphora wine. Caftaric acid (caffeoyltartaric acid) is a derivative of hydroxycinnamic acid and the ester of caffeic acid and tartaric acid, and is one of the most important phenolic compounds in the flesh of the grape berry. As a result of prolonged soaking and fermentation on the skins, higher values can be detected in skin-fermented white wines compared to normal white wines, with five times higher values measured in ceramic eggs. If reduced glutathione (GSH) is present in the must, caftaric acid-ortho-quinone reacts with this first, forming 2-glutathionylcaftaric acid (grape reaction product, GRP). GRP is colorless, does not react with polyphenol oxidase and no browning occurs.

Comparing amphora and ceramic egg wines using NMR analysis and the MANOVA statistical method, the following findings can be presented:

  • Measurement data from the individual wine samples, which apparently show no difference, have been omitted. The other parameters were evaluated by group, since one of the conditions of MANOVA is that the number of variables examined together cannot be higher than the number of observations (that is, more than 3, because this was the number of observations per vessel type).
  • In addition, however, the variables met the other conditions of multivariate analysis of variance: the residues are normally distributed and their standard deviation is homogeneous with two exceptions where it is slightly affected: in the case of fumaric acid and methylbutanol. There are no extremes or outliers in one dimension (there is a suitable exchange in 4 cases) and, based on the Mahalanobis distance, in several dimensions, there is no multicollinearity between the final groups, however, due to multicollinearity, fumaric acid, galacturonic acid and 2-methylpropanol were not examined separately, because it would not have given a new, evaluable result compared to the other variables examined in the given group.
  • No differences were found in the quantity of monovalent, non-higher alcohols (ethanol, methanol) depending on the storage vessel type (F(2;3)=2.681; p=0.641).
  • In the case of organic acid content of grape origin (tartaric acid, malic acid, citric acid), when examined together, there is no significant difference between the wines by storage vessel type (F(2;3)=6.856; p=0.130). However, when looking at tartaric acid (F(2;3)=23.115; p<0.05) or malic acid (F(2;3)=36.914; p<0.05) alone, there is a difference: wines stored in ceramic eggs have a higher tartaric acid content and a lower malic acid content compared to amphora batches.
  • In the case of organic acids formed during fermentation (lactic acid, acetic acid, succinic acid), when examined together, there is no significant difference between the wines by storage vessel type (F(2;3)=2.064; p=0.343). However, when looking at lactic acid (F(2;3)=11.755; p<0.05) or succinic acid (F(2;3)=10.814; p<0.05) alone, there is a difference: wines stored in ceramic eggs have a lower content of lactic acid and succinic acid compared to amphora batches. When examined outside of the model, the amount of fumaric acid does not differ (t(4)=4.303; p=0.238), while the amount of galacturonic acid differs (t(4)=4.303; p<0.05) by storage vessel type, it being lower in the case of ceramic eggs.
  • Regarding fermentation byproducts (acetoin, acetaldehyde), a significant difference was found when examining the factors together (F(2;3)=36.718; p<0.05). The acetaldehyde content was found to be lower in the ceramic egg (F(2;3)=36.718; p<0.05). The same can be said for the amount of acetoin, which was close to the significance limit (F(2;3)=6.852; p=0.059).
  • When higher alcohols (2,3-butanediol, 2-phenylethanol, 3-methylbutanol) were examined together, there was no difference (F(2;3)=6.826; p=0.130), while when butanediol was examined independently, the result was close to the significance limit (F(2;3)=7.383; p=0.053), it being lower in ceramic eggs.
  • When polyphenols (shikimic acid, trigonelline, caftaric acid) were examined together, no significant differences were detected (F(2;3)=13.,606; p=0.069), but the amount of caftaric acid was significantly higher in ceramic eggs, if the values were assessed individually (F(2;3)=36.977; p<0.05).
  • A statistically verifiable difference was found in the amount of proline based on an independence test, it being lower in ceramic eggs (t(4)=2.770; p<0.05). It is characteristic of free amino acids that proline is present in wines in almost 50%, the proportion of arginine is 10%, this ratio remains the same in amphora wines, but in ceramic eggs the proportion typical of Tokaj wines (30-25%) can be observed [23].

6. Conclusions

Natural winemaking technology is the representation in wine of an approach that demonstrates, on the one hand, the close-to-nature dedication of its maker, and on the other hand, the imprint of the characteristics of the vineyard soil. Hygiene plays a very important role, without which the use of a chemical-free technology becomes impossible. The insistence on naturalness and sustainability can justify trying out the possibilities offered by different storage vessels and endows the wines produced in this way with added value. Each storage vessel adds to and shapes the chemical composition of the wine. They can also be important factors in market positioning, not only because they are special and unique, but also because the ideological values associated with them (the grape harvest, separated from mother earth, can complete its life journey of becoming wine in a similar environment) can endow these types of wine with a distinctive character.

7. Irodalom

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[18] Landrault, N., Poucheret, P., Ravel, P., Gasc, F., Cros, G., Teissedre, P.L. (2001): Antioxidant capacities and phenolics levels of french wines from different varieties and vintages. J. Agric. Food Chem. 49 (7) 3341–3348.

[19] Leskó, A. (2011): A tőketerhelés hatása a szőlőbogyó, a must és a bor összetételére. PhD-értekezés, BCE, Budapest

[20] Kállay M. (2007): A bor alkotóelemei, a hazai borok sajátosságai. Az Országgyűlés mezőgazdasági bizottságának „A bor hatása az egészségre - Molekulától a betegágyig” című rendezvény szakmai előadása (Hozzáférés: 2021.12.27.)

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Flexitarianism – the sustainable food consumption?

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Flexitarianism – the sustainable food consumption?


Received: August 2022 – Accepted: September 2022


1 University of Szeged, Faculty of Engineering, Institute of Food Engineering


flexitarian, omnivore, vegetarian, vegan, plant-based, sustainability, sustainable food consumption

1. Summary

Flexitarians became the largest dietary group after omnivores, they play a significant role when it comes to effectively reducing the consumption of meat and other animal-derived products and thus in fighting climate change.

Looking at all those, who actively reduce or fully exclude at least some animal products, including vegetarians, pescetarians and flexitarians, the group in total represents 30.8% of the population: 10 to 30 % of Europeans no longer consider themselves full meat-eaters anymore. However, there are substantial differences in the proportion of consumers considering themselves and/or categorised as flexitarian. Furthermore, the lack of a definition or at least a wide consensus on what to be considered a flexitarian diet makes it even more difficult to estimate the size of this consumer group.

Why could the classification of flexitarianism still be useful and support a sustainable food consumption? Instead of following strict rules, strengthening consumers’ efforts to pursue a more sustainable diet according to their own intention (such as following a flexitarian eating pattern) may be more effective.

Different food consumption patterns are described in this article from omnivores via reducetarians, flexitarians, vegetarians to vegans, where possible definitions and data are provided on the proportion of consumers following such diet patters.

2. Food is a source of nutrients

Food is a source of vital macro- and micronutrients, vitamins. Foodstuffs, including water are sources of life, necessary and unavoidable for the functioning of our body and to maintain good health. The foods we eat also have influence on the composition of our microbiota. But foods are not only sources of energy, protein, fat and carbohydrates, but they are also a source of enjoyment by providing good taste and smell. Foodstuffs either eaten raw or cooked are part of our social life and our culture.

3. Our diet varies

Our diet varies depending on our geographical location, societal status, economical buying power, our education and cultural background. Mediterranean countries provide a more favourable environment for the production of a wide range of vegetables and fruits allowing a varied diet. Whether and lifestyle have an influence on the gastronomic culture. Seasonality would also influence the availability of foods. Religion, ethical, moral and animal welfare issues motivate consumers, as well. (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other religious restrictions not allowing the consumption of pork, beef and certain other types of foods are well-known for a long time.) Some societies are more conservative than others, high level of neophobia would be an obstacle in the acceptance of food innovation and that of novel products. Information, especially the lack of evidence-based information and fake news via social media have a major role in consumers’ decisions. On one hand, consumers are becoming more conscious, mainly health-conscious, more and more environment-conscious requesting healthy, ’natural’, clean label and sustainably produced foodstuffs to be marketed. On the other hand they follow trends as much as they set up those.

4. Planetary Health – the EAT-Lancet Report (2019) [1]

Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth. An immense challenge facing humanity is to provide a growing world population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems.

Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits. Thus, the EAT-Lancet Report urges a radical transformation of the global food system.

As the goal set up in the EAT-Lancet Report is to achieve „Planetary Health Diets” for nearly 10 billion people by 2050, the Commission would continue its work and publish another report in 2024.

5. Different food consumption patterns – Omnivores, vegetarians, flexitarians and anything in between

The most relevant diets are summarized in Table 1. providing different definitions and data for the prevalence and consumption.

Table 1. Eating habits and preferred diets from unrestricted omnivore via flexitarian to vegan (The codes in the table are the ISO codes of the name of the countries)

Varied diets – unless restricted by environmental, economic and social-cultural factors – allow the moral, ethical and spiritual approach of people being reflected.

We are mainly omnivores in Europe (72.3% based on a survey conducted in 2021 in six EU Member States) [2], such as North Americans (66% in 2019) [3], regularly consuming meats (pork, beef, mutton, goat, chicken and other poultry), but mainly red meat. An omnivore diet does not exclude any foods or food groups, unless the given consumer has food allergy, intolerance or other food-related health issue.

A small proportion of consumers are vegetarians (ovo-, lacto or ovo-lacto vegetarians) or vegans but they strictly follow their choice of diet, they are persistent and consistent in their decision to follow a meat-free, plant-based (e.g. vegetables, fruits, legumes, cereals etc.) diet. On average, 4.6% of Europeans are vegetarians, but it varies, 5-7% in the United Kingdom, 4.6% in Germary, 4.1 in Italy and Austria, 4.0% in AUT, 3.6% in Switzerland and as low as 2.1% in Estonia (see Table 1.), to name a few.

Vegans, who follow a more strict diet by excluding all meat, dairy, eggs and honey (all meat-based ingredients), form a small group of people. Data on the proportion of vegans in different countries are provided in Table 1. The production process must not use animal-derived products either, such as gelatine for clarifying juice or wine, or animal-based glue for product packaging.

Do we need definitions for vegetarian and vegan diets at all? Maybe not. However, in case food business operators (food processors and retailers) are willing to label foods as being suitable for vegetarian and vegan consumers, for example as „vegan food”, than we have to have a clear definition in order to be able to control the labelling. Furthermore, it would be useful to have an (and only one) internationally used, clear and harmonised logo for vegan foods. A symbol for labelling vegan and vegetarian products and services called „V-Label” exists. It was registered in 1996. [4]

Until today, there is no official definition for vegetarian and vegan diets. Despite the very detailed and comprehensive EU food legislation, there is no definition for vegetarianism and veganism, thus labelling rules for suitable food products have not been set up. In 2019, the European Commission (EC) began to define the concept of vegetarian and vegan food following the authorization given by a law passed in 2011. The EU Food Information Regulation stipulated that the EC is to issue an implementing act defining requirements for “information related to suitability of a food for vegetarians or vegans” (Article 36(3)(b) Regulation (EU) No 1169/2011). The European Vegetarian Organization (EVU is the umbrella organisation of vegan and vegetarian associations ad societies throughout Europe, „representing plant-based interests in the EU”, as they claim) together with FoodDrinkEurope (FDE is a food industry confederation in the European Union), have prepared proposals [5] for possible names. They point out, that the Commission has failed to act upon this responsibility since 2011 and does not consider the matter to be of high priority.

The proposed definition for food suitable for vegans is as follows: „Foods that are not products of animal origin and in which, at no stage of production and processing, use has been made of or the food has been supplemented with - ingredients (including additives, carriers, flavourings and enzymes), or - processing aids, or - substances which are not food additives but are used in the same way and with the same purpose as processing aids, that are of animal origin.

5.1. Vegetarian foods

Foods are belonging to this group, which are meet the requirements of vegan foods, with the difference that in their production and processing milk and dairy products, colostrum, eggs, honey, beeswax, propolis, or wool grease (including lanolin derived from the wool of living sheep or their components or derivatives) may be added or used.

Dedicated vegans usually start as vegetarians. According to the VeganZ study [2] conducted in six EU member states, 67.3% of vegans reported initially being vegetarian. In addition, 83% of vegetarians (FR) can imagine only buying plant-based products. As such, one can expect a proportion of vegetarian study participants to not only give up eating meat and fish in the future, but also to give up all animal-derived products. So, it is interesting to note that there is a trend towards veganism among vegetarians.

Besides that, 12.1% of omnivores are not opposed to a vegan diet, while 28.2% can imagine going vegetarian.

There are numerous variations between the omnivore and the vegan diets, such as – including but not limited to – reducetarian, flexitarian, semi-vegetarian, pescetarian (who exclude (red) meat from their diet, but eat fish), pesce-pollotarian, pollotarian diets, not to mention the ovo-, lacto- and ovo-lacto-vegetarian eating habits (Table 1.).

6. The flexitarian diet

6.1. Flexitarians

Consumers who are reducing their consumption of meat are also referred to in the literature as ’meat reducers’, ’low meat-eaters’ or ’semi-vegetarians’. [6]

Flexitarians deliberately aim to reduce animal products in their diet, but do not strictly exclude any meat. Flexitarian is a marriage of two words: flexible and vegetarian. The term was coined more than a decade ago by D. J. Blatner in her 2009 book “The Flexitarian Years to Your Life.” Blatner says you don’t have to eliminate meat completely to reap the health benefits associated with vegetarianism – you can be a vegetarian most of the time, but still enjoy a burger or steak when the urge hits. By eating more plants and less meat, it’s suggested that people who follow the diet will not only lose weight but can improve their overall health, lowering their rate of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, and live longer as a result.

According to the German Society for Nutrition, you can also call „flexitarians” „flexible vegetarians”. Even though they consume meat and fish, they do it less frequently than traditional omnivores. [7] Flexitarians are also known as casual vegetarians or vegivores. The flexitarian diet can be generally defined as a semi-vegetarian, plant-forward diet. It is a flexible eating style that emphasizes the addition of plant or plant-based foods and encourages meat to be consumed less frequently and/or in smaller portions.

Flexitarians, consumers reducing their consumption of meat are also referred to as „meat reducers” or „low meat-eaters”.

As the terms flexitarian and semi-vegetarian (even called earlier as partial- and pseudo-vegetarian) are often used as synonyms, neither vegetarian nor flexitarian have definitions, so it is rather difficult to compare these groups and to study their proportion. So in order to clearly differentiate them, they are arranged in Table 2. according to their attitude towards and consumption of meat.

Table 2. Consumption of certain food groups in different types of diets – with special regard to meat consumption

Calories in the flexitarian diet mostly come from nutrient-rich foods such as fruits, legumes, whole grains and vegetables. When it comes to protein, plant-based foods (e.g., soy foods, legumes, nuts and seeds) are the primary source. Protein also comes from eggs and dairy, with lesser amounts coming from meat, especially red and processed meats. Due to the emphasis on nutrient-dense foods, the flexitarian diet encourages limiting one’s intake of saturated fat, added sugars and sodium. [8] Whether the latter is true or not, could be further studied. Following a flexitarian diet might not necessarily ensure a healthier nutrition, than that of omnivores. The interpretation of the term flexitarian is so diverse and its composition might differ so much, that we should be aware of the type of the food of animal origin and the frequency of its consumption to be able to judge.

The term flexitarian has been criticized by some vegetarians and vegans as an oxymoron because people following the diet are not vegetarians but omnivores as they still consume the flesh of animals. [9]

As there is no consensus regarding the definition of flexitarianism, it is rather difficult to measure or estimate the number and proportion of flexitarian consumers. Some consumers think of themselves as flexitarian when they cut meat consumption by half, only for one day, reduce it to 4 days/week, or even less. This discrepancy might have led to the following classification: „heavy flexitarian” (1 or 2 times per week meat for dinner), „medium flexitarian” (half of the week a meatless dinner) and „light flexitarian” (meat consumption frequency 5 or 6 times per week) [10]. This classification helps to overcome the huge differences in the interpretation of the term „flexitarian”.

Whether the classification of flexitarian consumers is based on a self-reported weekly meat consumption frequency or based on the measurement of the food consumption pattern by other means, it may lead to very different data. So we have to handle data on the proportion of flexitarians by care.

Even if the number of vegans and vegetarians has risen, most of the population is still consuming meat and other products of animal origin: on average 18.3% of Europeans consider themselves flexitarians. Their number is higher in Germany (27.3%) and Austria (25.8%) and lower in Spain (13.1%) and in Italy (12.1%). [2] (See Table 1. for more data.)

More than 50% of non-vegans in Germany intend to reduce their consumption of animal-derived products in the future. [2]

15.3% of flexitarians can imagine going vegan, while 54.8% would switch to a vegetarian diet.

Looking at all those, who actively reduce or fully exclude at least some animal products, including vegetarians, pescetarians and flexitarians, the group in total represents 30.8% of the population: 10 to 30 % of Europeans no longer consider themselves full meat-eaters anymore. [11].

7. Environmental concerns – plant-based solutions

In contrast to vegans and vegetarians, flexitarians attribute their main reasons for reduced meat consumption to the environment and sustainability (72.1%). [2]

Some authors [12, 13, 14] refer explicitly to a flexitarian diet as an important dietary change that significantly contributes to reducing the environmental footprint of the food system and providing more healthy eating patterns and nutritional benefits to food consumers. These studies define a flexitarian dietary pattern as predominantly plant-based complemented with modest amounts of animal foods (meat, dairy, fish). [10]

More and more people in Europe choose plant-based products over animal-based nutrition, occasionally or permanently. Almost all big supermarket chains list veggie meat and dairy alternatives.

Flexitarianism or ‘casual vegetarianism’ is an increasingly popular, plant-based diet that claims to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your health with an eating regime that’s mostly vegetarian yet still allows for the occasional meat dish. The rise of the flexitarian diet is a result of people taking a more environmentally sustainable approach to what they eat by reducing their meat consumption in exchange for alternative protein sources. [15]

Reducing meat and dairy consumption could cut greenhouse gas emissions by between 0.7-8 billion tons of CO2eq annually by 2050 — that’s roughly between 1 percent and 16 percent of current emissions. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is clear that in many poorer societies, it’s hard to find alternatives to animal protein. The EU has avoided policy that encourages citizens to cut meat eating, fearing political backlash. [16]

Another term should be mentioned here: „demitarian diet”. „Demitarianism” is the practice of making a conscious effort to reduce meat consumption largely for environmental reasons. The term was devised in 2009 in Barsac (France) at a workshop of environmental agencies, where they developed “The Barsac Declaration: Environmental Sustainability and the Demitarian Diet”. [17]

8. Plant-based diets

As there is an increasing need for alternative proteins, plant-based diets are gaining momentum. Plant-based diets have been praised for their benefit to our health and the environment. There is neither an official definition nor consensus on what defines a plant-based diet. It is used to describe a variety of dietary patterns, from the Mediterranean diet to Vegetarian and Vegan diets. The descriptions of plant-based diets mainly focus on the promotion of healthy plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, bean, pulses, nuts etc., and they do not necessarily exclude the consumption of meat and dairy products, so these are not expecting the total avoidance of products of animal origin. [18, 19]

Although a plant-based diet is often used to describe a plant-only or vegan diet, it is not about the complete avoidance of animal products. Plant-based diets should be thought of as plant-forward diets or ‘flexitarian’ approaches, which emphasise eating healthy plant foods. While meat and dairy products are not necessarily avoided altogether, the frequency and portions that they are consumed will be reduced and most of the nutrients should come from healthy plant foods.

According to a Harvard Business Review [20] flexitarian consumers are the biggest market for plant-based products (accounting for 70% of sales in some categories [21], and 30% of overall shoppers [22]).

9. Food and Health

As mentioned before, in contrast to vegans and vegetarians, flexitarians attribute their main reasons for reduced meat consumption to the environment and sustainability. However, there are also health reasons and societal concerns pushing consumers to change their dietary habits. The health issues, the high prevalence of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) is well-known. Whether it is hidden hunger, obesity or CVDs, tumors or other health issues in relation to food consumption, the non-balanced diet has long-term consequences. Short term changes, such as following fashion-diets are not appropriate in case we wanted to avoid the negative health consequences of our diet.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the relationship between food and health and are changing their purchasing behaviour accordingly.

79% of Belgian respondents (n=17.000 (2021)) actively seek information on healthy living, and they expect regulators to play a stronger role in promoting health and environmental sustainability. BE consumers eat more fruit (51%) and vegetables (57%) than previously. [23]

10. Societal problems

The importance of societal problems – besides of health-related and environmental issues – should also be emphasized, as the increasing amount of non-evidence-based information spread most efficiently via social media and by bloggers and other influencers would undermine the reliability and trustfulness of science and its golden rules.

Another phenomenon is, when dogmas are being built. Numerous food-related dogmas were built in the last decades. These also endanger trust.

Consumers may also lose their trust in the food system due to greenwashing and similar attempts. When food companies are aiming to overdo and mimic environmental-friendly practices, consumers become most disappointed when the reality becomes evident.

11. Trend or fad?

An increasing group of food consumers are purposefully reducing their meat intake, without totally eliminating meat from their diet. They have no intention to become vegetarian or vegan, but for health and environmental reasons they are flexible and reduce their meat consumption.

The demand for vegan and vegetarian food products including alternatives to meat, milk, or eggs, has expanded considerably during recent years in Europe. [24]

Being a high-flying trend, a major innovation in the current decade, but will plant-based meat analogues continue to rise and generate enormous income for investors and for the time being, or is it going to be a fad?

„It is unlikely that plant-based meat will continue to grow as rapidly as it has the past few years. While it is certainly not a short-term fad, steep growth-rates will certainly cool down before 2025.” [25]

It was found that the percentage of heavy flexitarians (see definitions in Table 1. and above) decreased from more than 15 per cent in 2011 to less than 10 per cent in 2019, while the percentage of light flexitarians increased from 36 per cent in 2011 to 41 per cent in a Dutch survey. Such figures contribute to a slightly higher average in the number of days in which meat was eaten at dinner: from 4.6 days a week (2011) to 4.8 days a week (2019). And this outcome could be reconciled with the fact that per capita meat consumption in the Netherlands has been stable between 2011 and 2019 at approximately 39 kg. All this suggests that flexitarianism has made little progress in the past 10 years – at least, when it comes to overt behaviour. [10].

12. Generational differences

A recent US survey [26] examined the food priorities and buying power of Generation Z, how more Americans are concerned about environmental sustainability. The 17th annual 2022 Food & Health Survey, conducted online (n=1,005, ages 18 to 80) oversampled Gen Z consumers (ages 18-24), who showed strong interest in the environment. When asked whether they believed their generation was more concerned about the environmental impacts of their food choices than other generations, Gen Z was the most likely to say yes at 73%, followed by millennials at 71%. Among all age groups, 39% said environmental sustainability had an impact on their purchasing decisions for foods and beverages, which was up from 27% in 2019.

13. Sustainable diets

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) defines sustainable diets as having a low environmental impact, while meeting current nutritional guidelines, all while remaining affordable, accessible and culturally acceptable. [27]

Cultural and historical background, gastronomy, consumer habits and the role food plays in our culture have an immense effect on the way how and what we eat.

Consumer habits are rather difficult to change. Besides, it is widely known, that there can be large discrepancies between consumers’ self-perception and their actual behaviour, for example between the number of self-declared flexitarians and their actual meat consumption (frequency).

Despite all scientific evidence and scholarly consensus about what a healthy and sustainable dietary pattern consists of, in current practice mostly only small minorities of food consumers turn out to be able to meet such dietary recommendations. This indicates clearly that it must be expected that moving to a flexitarian diet style in which meat intake is limited to some degree is considered a dramatic dietary shift to many people. This implies that irrespective of the consensus about what a sustainable diet generally is, it is much less clear and uncontroversial how willing and helpful consumers could be to drive the transition to meat-restricted diets and dishes. [10]

Throughout human history, consumers abstained from eating meat on a regular basis, even if it was not a question of buying power or poverty, but a religious reason (see „Friday Fish” or „meat-free-Fridays”) or others.

We should not underestimate the role of meat in our diet, its sensory and nutritional value, its role in the national cuisine (see the examples of Germany, Switzerland and Hungary), how it is associated with wealth and power, traditional foods and tradition which might be an obstacle to innovation and novelty. The role animal husbandry plays in the economy, mainly in agricultural countries and numerous other factors would influence the way we relate to foods.

In case we will have a growing interest and commitment to increase our vegetable and fruit consumption, to reduce the meat intake than, with or without plant-based meat analogues, we may achieve healthier life for ourselves and for our fellow human beings.

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Attitudes towards health foods in terms of diet and physical activity

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Attitudes towards health foods in terms of diet and physical activity

DOI: https://doi.org/10.52091/EVIK-2021/3-1-ENG

Received: June 2021 – Accepted: August 2021


1 University of Debrecen, Faculty of Economics and Business, Institute of Marketing and Commerce


netnography, functional foods, Consumer Style Inventory Test (CSI test), transtheoretical model

1. Summary

In our research, the aim was to examine consumer attitudes related to health foods, and these were analyzed in terms of physical activity and diet. Our studies were carried out in three stages. First, a netnographic analysis (a study of social interactions in the contemporary digital communication environment – Editor) was performed with data recorded in a search engine on the one hand and with the content analysis of posts and comments made in groups of publicly available social media sites on the other hand. The interest and its changes of consumers present in the online space were detected in the common subset of health-conscious eating and physical activity. While the number of hits shows a variable rate growth from year to year, the contetns are concentrated in relatively stable groups. Based on this, four main topics can be distinguished in the online space in the common subset of healthy eating and exercise:

  • Training plans with recipes,
  • Requests for recommendations,
  • Providing advice,
  • Motivational examples.

During teh second stage of our research, focus group interviews were conducted. The impact of regular exercise on the purchase and consumption of health foods was examined, and also the implications of this in developing and maintaining a diet perceived to be healthier by the consumers. 7 people were included in each study, based on preliminary criteria. The differentiating factor in joining the groups was the performance of regular physical activity, so an active and a passive group was formed. The identification of differences and characteristics was fundamental to the design of our quantitative research. During the third stage of our research, we were the first in Hungary to adapt the Consumer Style Inventory (CSI)1 test for health foods, the final version of which contains 25 items. In adition, differences in the way people transition to a healthy diet were examined. Based on the Eurobarometer survey, statements related to physical activity and sedentary lifestyle were formulated, which were classified as background variables in the analysis. The survey includes a gender-representative sample of 300 people. In our exploratory research, attitudes appearing in CSI were identified by principal component analysis, and then groups were formed by K-means cluster analysis. Based on this, four homogeneous consumer groups were identified in terms of attitudes towards health foods:

  • Uninterested,
  • Health-oriented,
  • Variety seekers,
  • Uncertain brand choosers.

Our results show that a sedentary lifestyle has no effect, while a diet considered healthy, as well as the regularity and duration of physical activity have significant effects on attitudes toward health foods.

1 A method designed for the measurement of consumer decision-making style

2. Introduction, literature review

2.1. Risk factors for health loss

Parts of health behavior are all health-related behaviors that manifest themselves as components of a healthy lifestyle, and as behaviors resulting from health motivations and health needs [1]. In Hungary, according to the NEFI (National Institute for Health Development) [2] 80% of the risks of health loss can be attributed to behavioral factors, of which a sedentary lifestyle and inadequate nutrition stand out.

Physical inactivity is responsible for 10% of cancers, has a serious impact on coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis, results in depressive symptoms, and last but not least, is responsible for 5 million deaths worldwide each year [3,4]. Physical activity and active sporting activities are separate conceptual categories. Activities related to physical activity can be divided into four groups according to their medium and way of implementation. Based on this, work-related, transport-related, household-related and leisure-time physical activities can be distinguished [5]. 53% of Hungarian never participates in any sporting activity and roughly half of the population does not engage in even moderate physical activity [6].

The concept of a sedentary lifestyle is important in the study of health behavior, as it has become a typical way of life in developed societies in recent decades. Any activity during waking hours where the metabolic equivalent (1 MET = 3.5 ml/min/kg body weight oxygen consumption) is less than 1.5 is considered sitting. A sedentary lifestyle has extremely negative effects on health in the long run [7,8]. Nearly half of the adult population of Hungary spends more than 5 hours 31 minutes sitting daily, and 10% work more than 8 hours 31 minutes sitting [9].

It si well known that obesity is a risk factor fro many chronic diseases. In 2008, there were 1.5 billion overweight people [10], in 2014, the number was more than 2.1 billion, and half of humanity is projected to be overweight by 2030 [11]. Results of the latest surveys are depressing, as they indicate that 58% of the adult population is overweight or obese based on their body mass index [12].

2.2. Health foods

The problems outlined are global and pose significant challenges for the food industry, among others. Improvements are needed which, due to their beneficial health effects, can slow down the spread of diseases of civilization and increase life expectancy spent in health [13]. Health foods have been created to treat the deficiencies caused by an unbalanced diet, to restore energy balance and to maintain health. Their names are extremely varied (e.g., healthy food, designer food, functional food, pharmafood), and the term functional food is most commonly used in the literature [14].

Foods with special health protection effects are not officially categorized and defined in Hungary, but the term functional food is widely used in the international literature. Based on the internationally accepted definition of ILSI2, this includes foods that, due to their bioactive ingredients, in addition to normal nutrition, have health benefits [15]. The main groups of functional food ingredients are vitamins and minerals, proteins, peptides, antioxidants, fatty acids and phytochemicals, and pre- and probiotics [14]. In the early 2000s, the most popular functional foods were energy and sports drinks, probiotic dairy products, ”heart-friendly” products and ready-to-eat cereals [16]. According to the 2016 statistics of Google Food Trends, within the category of functional foods, ”healthy ingredients”, such as turmeric, apple cider vinegar and avocado oil, as well as bitter melon and kefir proved to be the most popular among consumers [17]. Between January 1990 and June 2018, the most studied functional foods and ingredients were prebiotics, probiotics and antioxidants, according to the bibliometric assessment of Yeung et al. (2018), who analyzed the most cited and sought for items in the literature [18] Among the factors influencing consumers’ willingness to buy, the most significant are health effects, taste, quality, value for money, and their knowledge about functional foods [19,20]. Consumption of health foods and a healthy diet can be considered cornerstones of health behavior.

2.3. Examining health behavior

To study health behavior, a number of models are used by researchers. The transtheoretical model of behavior change, hereinafter TTM3, was originally introduced as an integration of different theoretical concepts in clinical psychology [21, 22]. Prochaska and Prochaska [23], in order for professionals to be able to have a significant and lasting impact on health-threatening behaviors, have developed a model that can be applied to study the health behavior of not only the minority who is motivated for change, but the entire population. TTM encompasses process-oriented variables to predict and explain how and when subjects change their behavior [24]. Behavior change is a process that takes place over a long period of time and goes through a defined series of stages [25]. The model can be used to examine exactly where a person/group is in the transition to sustainable health behavior. Based on this, five stages are distinguished [26]:

  • Precontemplation,
  • Contemplation,
  • Preparation,
  • Action and
  • Maintenance.

In the precontemplation stage, the individual is unaware of the consequences of risk behavior, does not seek information and is not interested in changing health behavior in a positive direction. In the contemplation stage, the individual weighs the benefits of the change and compares them to the costs of change. They are aware of the need for change, but if the costs are considered to be excessive, further steps are not taken. In the preparation stage, the individual is already prepared to take certain steps and possesses an action plan. In the action stage, he individual takes specific steps to protect their health. As awareness increases, the chances of returning to past behavior decrease. Real behavior change can be achieved in the maintenance stage, after at east six months. At this point, the new form of behavior becomes a natural part of the individual’s life and there is no need for reinforcements from the environment either [14, 26].

In the primary research outlined in the present study, TTM was used by our group to investigate the transition to a healthy diet.

From an economic point of view, the elements of health behavior that manifest themselves in behavior are shopping and consumption. Consumers approach the market with basic decision styles. These can be defined as mental shopping orientations that characterize consumer choices [27]. To measure the diversity of decision styles, the Consumer Style Inventory, hereinafter referred to as the CSI test [28]. CSI has been validated in many countries around the world (e.g., the United Kingdom, New Zealand, South Korea, Germany, Singapore, China, Malaysia, India, Turkey, USA) and is widely used [29]. CSI has been used in the past in general commerce [30, 31], in the monitoring of online behavior [28], and in organic food buying [32], among others. With regard to health/functional foods, no research has been carried out so far in which CSI has also been incorporated, and this was attempted by our group in our quantitative studies. In addition to exploring the decision-making styles and attitudes related to the purchase and consumption of health foods, it was also considered important to carry out a study in the online space, as this is one of the most relevant information source and communication interfaces today.

3 Transteorethical Model

2.4. Health communication nowadays – obtaining information online

According to 2021 data, there are approximately 5.16 billion active Internet users worldwide [33], and 4.48 billion of them use social media [34]. In recent years, social media has changed people’s interactions, including health-related communication [35]. Benetoli et al. [36] identified convenient and quick access, improved health knowledge and a sense of social and emotional support as the benefits of obtaining health information through social media. Disadvantages of social media included questionable credibility, information overload and the increased time spent online, among others. Johns et al. [37] classified studies published between 2000 and 2016 in terms of changes in health behavior and the impact of social media. As a result of their research, it was found that social media had no effect on giving up smoking or weight loss, but had an effect on increased physical activity.

As an axiom, it can be stated that digital communication is an integral part of of the advanced societies of today. Research in the online space is a useful addition to a type of marketing research that are group has been working on. Netnography is a qualitative research method that adapts the techniques of netnographic studies to examine the culture of online communities [38]. It can be used to understand the mindset and decision-making mechanisms of online consumer groups [39]. Ten years ago, Dörnyei and Mitev [40] recorded the basic forms of online communication: instant messengers, e-mail lists, game interfaces, chat applications, blogs, search engines, forums, social media sites. In terms of their usage, these channels have undergone a radical change. While blogs and forums flourished in 2010, today consumers barely use these platforms at all. Today’s most popular, almost exclusive virtual communication interfaces are content and video sharing sites under the umbrella of social media, of which Facebook stands out, with 2.853 billion users wolrdwide [34].

3. Materials and methods

In our research, the goal was to examine consumer attitudes towards health foods, which we analyzed in the common subset of physical activity and the diet. The research took place between April and November of 2019, and then a follow-up was performed in April 2021 by repeating our netnographic analyses. Our studies were carried out in three stages.

In the first step of primary data collection, a netnographic research was conducted with data recorded in a search engine on the one hand and the content analysis of of posts and comments made groups of publicly available social sites on the other hand. The interests of consumers present in the online space, as well as changes in them were detected in terms of health-conscious eating and physical activity.

In the second stage of our research, two focus group interviews were conducted. The impact of regular exercise on the purchase and consumption of health foods was examined, and the implications of this in developing and maintaining a diet considered to be healthier by consumers. 7 people each were included in the studies, based on preliminary criteria. The conditions for inclusion in the groups were as follows:

  • The subject is over 18 years of age;
  • The subject does not work in the fields of journalism, marketing, advertising, PR or market research;
  • The subject has not participated in a market research survey related to the topic of physical activity and/or health-conscious eating in the previous year;
  • The subject has not participated in a focus group discussion in the previous year;
  • The subject does not have a milk protein allergy;
  • First group: The subject regularly engages in physical activity;
  • Second group: The subject does not engage in physical activity.

The differentiating factor for inclusion in the groups was performing regular physical activity, so an active and a passive group were created. At the start of the study, participants introduced themselves one by one, and then they had a conversation for a few minutes under the guidance of the moderator, creating group cohesion and an atmosphere of trust. The first part of the scenarios examined the factors that play a role in the development of a healthy lifestyle. In the second block, buying and consumption habits related to health foods were explored. The transtheoretical model of behavior change was incorporated in the scenarios, and it was examined with respect to the topic of healthy eating. In both cases, group discussions took place in an informal style and lasted an hour and a half. Minutes and audio recordings of the discussions were taken, which allowed for accurate analysis.

In the third stage of our research, an online questionnaire survey was conducted, which was shared several social media groups with the help of dietitians. A total of 378 people completed the questionnaire. To ensure representativeness, the sample was adjusted so that it reflects the composition of the Hungarian population in terms of gender distribution. As a result, mathematical-statistical analyses were performed on a sample of 300 people. In addition to key demographic data, based on Eurobarometer [9] surveys, statements related to physical activity and sedentary lifestyle were formulated, which were classified as background variables in the analysis. The questionnaire included the Hungarian translation of the Consumer Style Inventory (CSI), which was adapted and modified for health foods based on the research of Prakash et al. [32]. Items with Cronbach’s alpha values above 0.7 were included in our own research, and one dimension, statements related to environmentally conscious consumption, was omitted. As a result, 25 statements were formulated that respondents had to rate on a Likert scale of 1 to 5. The transtheoretical model of behavior change was incorporated into the questionnaire and it was examined in relation to healthy eating. Based on the focus group discussions, expansion of the TTM statements was considered to be justified, so the 6-point ordinal scale of Szabó [41] was incorporated in the questionnaire. This essentially separates the 5 stages defined in the literature by dividing the action phase into two subcategories. The main goal of our quantitative research was to identify consumer attitudes in the CSI adapted to health foods. To achieve this, in the first step the normal distribution of the variables was tested, and then the reliability of the scales was analyzed, in each case obtaining good or excellent reliability. Following this, factor analysis was performed using the CSI variables. After running several possible procedures, principal component analysis was finally applied with Varimax rotation and Kaiser normalization. The KMO criterion of factor analysis was met, exhibiting an almost excellent value (0.853). During the analysis, three variables were excluded from the CSI scale, as they distorted both reliability and the results of factor analysis (”Typically, I buy health foods at a discount price.”, ”I usually choose lower priced products.”, ”I’d rather buy well-known, domestic brand products.”). As a result, the explanatory power of the model has improved. A total of four factors were created to form differentiated attitude structures. In the next step, the reliability of the factors obtained was checked by calculating Cronbach’s alpha values, and then sample segmentation was carried out. The analysis was performed using the K-means clustering procedure, during which four well-separated, homogeneous groups were identified, based on consumer attitudes in the CSI. Characterization of each cluster was performed by cross-tabulation analysis and analysis of variance.

4. Results and their evaluation

4.1. Results of the netnographic study

Our study was conducted in line with today’s trends, using a search engine on the one hand and by content analysis of social media sites on the other hand. Different search engines and browsers have been optimized for different terms, and so search results and and hit lists may differ from each other. We used the Google search engine through the Google Chrome browser both in 2019 and 2021. As a first step, our results were compared to those of Gál et al. [42] in terms of search hits of nutrition-related keywords. Then the changes in search hits were identified for terms related to healthy eating and regular exercise over the intervening two years. Changes in nutrition-related keyword search results are shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Changes in nutrition-related keyword search results

Gál et al. [42] included the terms “healthy diet” and “healthy eating” as synonyms for ”health-conscious eating”. It can be seen that both in 2017 and 2019, the leading hits were generated by the term healthy eating, but in 2021 an explosive growth of the term “healthy diet” can be observed. The number of hits has increased nearly tenfold in four years. Search results for terms related to both nutrition and sports are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Search results for nutrition and sports terms

The number of hits for search engine terms shows a variable rate increase. Of the key terms provided by us, ”regular sporting activities” and ”healthy eating and sports” proved to be the most sought after. ”Healthy eating and sports”, although the second most common content among search terms, shows a declining trend compared to 2019. At the same time, content on the topic ”healthy eating and sports” has tripled, yielding more than 6.5 million hits in 2021.

After defining the keywords, posts from publicly accessible pages were analyzed, and this was followed up by monitoring in 2021. The popularity of forum portals continued to show a declining trend, so those sites were not investigated. However, it is important to note that there was a periodic activity in the case of forum portals (e.g. hoxa.hu, gyakorikerdesek.hu) in 2020. It is assumed that this can be attributed to the quarantine caused by the pandemic. But the explosive growth of social media groups has now almost completely overridden the activity of forum portals.

In Hungary, of the social media sites, currently the trinity of Facebook, Instagram and YouTube is the most popular among active internet users. The “hashtag” is an international communication tool for navigating between and orientation on the surfaces. Hashtags allow us to get to the type of content that interests us on any of the social media giants’ websites (YouTube videos; photo-based short Instagram posts / users / pages; typed text based Facebook posts / users / groups / pages). In addition to the three basic pillars, also appearing are Tik-Tok, which is mainly used by young people, and Twitter, which is less popular in Hungary but more popular internationally. Of social media, the analysis of Facebook pages and groups was chosen, because nowadays most of the internet user community communicates on this interface. All open and closed groups, as well as pages, with at least 3,000 members and followers were examined. Only Hungarian groups and pages were analyzed. In addition to keywords, their hashtag variations were also used (e.g., #regularsports; #healthyeating) to facilitate more accurate content analysis. Four main topics were identified during the analysis of the groups and pages, and these are illustrated in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Social media content on nutrition and physical activity

Based on our analyses, when weighing nutrition and exercise, the topic of healthy eating clearly appears in a more pronounced way in the interest of consumers. Healthy foods and dishes are most commonly associated with the terms ”free” and ”reduced” in public awareness, such as the terms sugar-free, chemical-free, reduced salt, reduced carbohydrate. In addition, there is an increasing emphasis on gluten- and dairy-free eating and different types of diets. This confirms the previous research results of Gál et al. [42], according to which a health-conscious diet and lifestyle is associated with some kind of diet or weight loss program by the majority of people.

The most common content in Facebook groups or pages in the common subset of diet and exercise is a combination of workout plans and recipes. These include short videos or photos that offer some kind of recipe along with a form of exercise or workout plan, typically using ”reduced” or ”free” ingredients. Workout plans are typically “challenges” over a longer period of time (e.g., broken down for a month), or forms of movement presented in a short video. Particularly popular contents are home exercises that can be performed without any aids or with minimal use of aids (e.g., dumbbells).

The content encountered second most frequently is requests for suggestions on a health problem or a change in lifestyle or diet. This is most noticeable regarding the topic of eating, less content requesting suggestions is found on exercise and physical activity.

The third most common content is providing advice or information. In the case of this type of content, mainly articles and stories, often with questionable authenticity, from associated sites appear on the pages, as well as short videos and infographics. Advice on the topic of physical activity is typically about how to start exercising regularly, what pitfalls and difficulties one might encounter. In the field of nutrition, the most common are discussion initiating contents related to gluten and sugar consumption, as well as dairy products and caffeine. This is followed by the presentation and promotion of “healthy products” and posts emphasizing the importance of fruit and vegetable consumption.

Other major type of content is the presentation of motivational examples. In this content, photos of “transformations” that occur as a result of some diet, dietary change or regular exercise are typically uploaded by users. Motivational examples often include presentations of “own stories” about restoring health. In these stories, people who share the content report a positive change in health as a result of a diet considered to be healthy and/or regular physical activity.

Overall, it can be stated that healthy eating and physical activity are popular activities among internet users. In the common subset of diet and exercise, the emphasis was typically on issues related to nutrition in the media examined by us. The most popular types of content are personal in nature and have a community-building power.

4.2. Results of focus group studies

4.2.1. Factors that play a role in the development of a healthy lifestyle

When describing the results of our focus group research, groups are referred to as ”active” and ”passive” ones, revealing the attitudes and peculiar characteristics of the given group. In the first block of the scenario, we sought to answer the question what similarities and differences could be detected between the groups in the topic of health. Regarding the groups, it can be generally said that in the subjective assessment of health, the active group considers their lifestyle to be healthy, while the passive group considers it to be unhealthy. In the development of a healthy lifestyle, the groups studied unanimously thought that the right amount and quality of sleep, proper nutrition, mental health and regular exercise were vital.

Following this, the groups had to rank 15 factors according to the influence of each component. Based on the ranking thus developed, the 5 most important factors according to each group are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. The most important features of a healthy lifestyle

Regarding the second most important features of the groups, 2 factors were raised to the same level by each group, as in neither case were they able to reduce the ranking to 1 component at this level. Nutrition and exercise were considered to be relevant by both groups, but it should be emphasized that information, accessibility and adequate financial situation were the most important for the passive group. Regarding the transition to a healthy lifestyle, the groups studied had to make arguments as to why it could be easy, as well as what would be difficult in the process. Overall, the same factors were listed both as pros and cons. The groups attached similarly great importance to the influence of the social environment, which they believed had a strong impact on the individual’s health behavior.

4.2.2. Customer and consumer habits and motivations related to health foods

There are differences between the categories of food most often purchased and consumed by the two groups. The passive group consumed a higher proportion of meat products, quick-frozen and processed foods. The active group preferred seasonal fruits and vegetables, dairy products and fresh bakery products. Members of the active group, according to their own statements, plan their purchases in advance, while impulse buying is more common among the passive group.

Prior to examining consumer attitudes towards health foods, their concept as clarified with group members: ”They are foods that have one or more nutritional biological benefits in addition to excellent taste. These advantages include lower energy content, mainly through the reduction of fat content or the omission of sugars, enrichment in certain minerals (Ca, Se, Mg), depletion in others (Na), addition of multivitamins or the use of probiotic lactic acid bacteria in different foods.” All of the subjects in the study bought and consumed health foods. For members of the active group, ”being free of something” was important, which manifested itself mainly in the avoidance of fat, salt and sugar. Members of the passive group typically preferred products ”fortified with something”. The active group bought more types of health food more often than the passive group.

It was characteristic of both groups that subjects had changed their eating habits over the previous year. The reason for this was the development of some kind of sensitivity/allergy, as well as the need to change lifestyles and to try new diets. Nutritional trends affected the active group, but they usually researched a diet before trying it. Members of the passive group are generally said to be uninterested in different trends, as well as dietary recommendations.

Regarding the purchase and consumption of food, the active group considers the healthiness of food to be the most important factor, while for the passive group it is value for money. Members of the active group attach particular importance to nutrient composition, to products that are ”free of something”. For the passive group, in addition to easy availability, previous positive experience has an impact on food buying habits.

4.2.3. Differences in the transition to a healthy diet based on the TTM

Using the statements translated by Soós et al. [26] based on the TTM, it was examined where the groups were in the transition to what they considered to be a healthier diet. Stages in the behavior change are described below, with examples of the statements made:

  • Precontemplation: In the next six months, I do not intend to switch to a diet I consider healthier;
  • Contemplation: I feel a strong urge to switch to a diet I consider healthier;
  • Preparation: Over the next month, I will be taking steps to switch to a diet I consider healthier;
  • Action: Over the past six months, I have switched to a diet I consider healthier;
  • Maintenance: I have been eating healthier for over six months now.

In the transition to a diet that is considered healthy, 30% of the active group was in the action stage, while 70% was in the maintenance stage. In contrast, 70% of the passive group was in the precontemplation or contemplation stage, while 30% was in the preparation stage. Based on this, it can be concluded that the passive group is less open to developing and maintaining a health-conscious diet.

Overall, it can be stated that great emphasis is placed on the consumption of health foods among the group who perform physical activity regularly. Purchases are planned more purposefully by the active group and, according to their own statements, their diet is more based on awareness.

4.3. Results of the questionnaire survey

4.3.1. Presentation of the sample

Our quantitative study was conducted in the online space. The gender distribution of our sample reflects the composition of the Hungarian population, however, our results are more exploratory, as the sampling took place in a specific medium. The sample was made up of people who follow the online work and activity of dietitians, and themselves spend time regularly in the online space. The distribution of the sample according to different background variables is shown in Tables 2 and 3.

Table 2. The distribution of the sample according to the main background variables
Table 3. The distribution of the sample according to the other background variables

Examining the age distribution, it can be stated that our sample is representative of internet users, i.e., the 18 to 49 age group is typically represented. Compared to the demographic composition of the Hungarian population, the proportion of people with higher education is much higher in our sample. Nearly half of the respondents consider themselves mostly health-conscious, engage in physical activity regularly, and 41.7% of these people spend 31 to 60 minutes with exercise daily. Two thirds of the sample spend between 2 hours 31 minutes and 8 hours 30 minutes a day sitting, with an additional 17% spending even more. This rate is higher than the Hungarian data measured by the Eurobarometer [9].

The transition to a healthier diet shows a more positive picture compared to the overall data of the Hungarian population. It must be added that, based on our representative national surveys, the proportion of people in the precontemplation stage is decreasing, while the proportion of people in the preparation, action and maintenance stages is increasing. In 2014 and 2019, 48% and 41% of the population was in the precontemplation stage, respectively, while the proportion of people maintaining a diet considered to be healthier has increased from 17.4% to 23.6% [43]. Development of the transition to a diet considered to be healthier in our sample is shown in Table 4.

Table 4. The evolution of switching to a nutrition considered healthier

4.3.2. Results of the factor analysis

According to our results, CSI’s attitudes towards health foods are determined by four factors in our sample. The factor structure of the CSI test is illustrated in Table 5.

The second factor is the Recreational, hedonistic value dimension, where the explained variance is 11.834%. This attitude is driven by the joy of of shopping, which has a decisive influence. Once again, high factor weights can be seen in the analysis, so this attitude is significantly separated from the other factors. This factor is skewed to the right (Skewness = 0.275), which means that in the whole sample, respondents do not really consider this attitude to be characteristic of themselves.

The third factor is the Uncertain, confused value dimension, in which the explained variance is 11.308%. It is characteristic of this attitude that the individual has difficulties making a decision about where to buy, as well as about what brand to choose, they feel that purchases should be planned more carefully. This factor is slightly skewed to the right (Skewness = 0.049), suggesting that the respondents who completed the questionnaire consider this attitude to be less characteristic of themselves.

The fourth factor is the Devoted, brand-loyal value dimension (explained variance: 10.872%). This attitude is characterized by brand loyalty and identifies quality with a higher price. The factor is significantly skewed to the left (Skewness = -0.882), so this type of behavior appears with a positive sign in the mindset of the respondents in the sample.

Table 5. Factor structure of the Consumer Style Inventory test

Method: Principal Component Analysis, Rotational method: Varimax with Kaiser Normalization. KMO=0,849

Prior to the cluster analysis of the CSI adapted for health foods, it was considered necessary to validate the list of claims. The Health- and self-conscious value dimension includes nine items, with a Cronbach’s alpha index of 0.922. There are four elements in the Recreational, hedonistic value dimension. Two of these items are considered inverted (”Shopping is not a pleasant activity for me”, ”I make my shopping trips fast”), after the recoding of which the scale has a Cronbach’s alpha index of 0.720. The Uncertain, confused value dimension contains five elements, with a Cronbach’s alpha index of 0.701. The fourth value dimension is Devoted, brand-loyal, which contains four statements. The Cronbach’s alpha index of the scale is 0.673. By deleting elements, there was no significant improvement in the Cronbach’s alpha index in any of the value dimensions. Based on our results, the list of statements is suitable for the characterization of the examined dimensions.

4.3.3. Segmentation results

The results of the factor analysis confirmed that the obtained factors are suitable for the cluster analysis, so in the next step the segmentation of the sample was performed. The analysis was performed using the K-means clustering procedure, and four groups were separated along the 22 factors. The value dimensions characteristic of the clusters are illustrated in Figure 4.

Figure 4. Clusters formed from CSI value adapted for health foods, based on the factors developed

Following this, the socio-demographic background of each segment was characterized by cross-tabulation analysis and the deviations from the mean were examined by analysis of variance. Finally, the differences between the groups in the areas of physical activity, sedentary lifestyle and the transition to a diet considered to be healthier were examined. Uninterested (cluster 1)

For those in the Uninterested group, the impact of foods on health is less important, they make no effort to buy good quality health food. Of the clusters, they show the least propensity to consume health foods, but cannot be considered dismissive. They do not identify the price of products with quality. They do not have favorite brands, and if they find a brand they like, they are not loyal to it. They want to finish shopping as soon as possible, since it is not a pleasant activity for them at all, they make quick decisions in the choice of both the store and the product. Typically, all statements are undervalued by Uninterested people compared to the other clusters.

The first cluster is the smallest group, making up 14.3% of the sample. In this cluster, men are inordinately overrepresented (72.1%), and the youngest age group, 18-29 is prominent (41.9%). This group has the highest proportion of people with high school diplomas (37.2%). Uninterested people has the highest proportion of respondents who are not health-conscious at all (16.3%) or mostly not health-conscious (34.9%). 60.5% of the group do not intend to switch to a diet they consider healthier in the next 6 months. They perform physical activity occasionally (32.6%) or infrequently (27.9%), spending on it 30 minutes or less (55.8%). Members of the group typically spend between 5 hours 31 minutes and 8 hours 30 minutes sitting daily (41.9%). Health-oriented (cluster 2)

For Health-oriented people, it is extremely important to buy high quality health foods, and they are making a special effort to do so. They believe less that the price of a product determines its quality. For the sake of variety, they shop in several stores and always have health foods in their kitchen. Shopping is not one of the favorite activities in their lives, they like to get it done quickly. They have a few favorite brands and typically buy these. When they buy health foods, they usually do so in the same store. Of the clusters, they consider themselves the most health-conscious. In order to maintain their health, they choose foods very carefully and intend to make efforts in the near future to buy health foods.

The second cluster accounts for nearly one-third of the sample (32.6%). In this group, we find almost equal numbers of women (49%) and men (51%). Based on age, the majority belong to the 30-39 (25.3%) and 40-49 (18.4%) age groups, who typically have college degrees. Those in the group consider themselves mostly (54.1%) or very health conscious (27.6%). According to their own statements, almost one-third of the cluster (29.6%) have been eating healthily for at least six months, while one-fifth (20.4%) have always been eating healthily. This group contains the highest proportion of those who engage in physical activity regularly (76.5%). They typically spend 31-90 minutes on active movement. Members of the cluster mostly spend between 2 hours 31 minutes and 5 hours 30 minutes sitting daily (40.8%). Variety seekers (cluster 3)

Variety seekers are less likely to identify product quality with high price. A higher than average proportion of them is reported to be looking for new types of health foods for purchase. Shopping is a decidedly pleasant and fun experience for them, members of the group believe that it is one of the really enjoyable activities of their lives that they spend a significant amount of time on. Compared to the sample average, they are more likely to have health foods at home. They are less loyal to brands, much more interested in novelty and variety.

The third cluster makes up 28% of the sample. Two-thirds of the group are women (64.3%). In this cluster, people in the 18-29 and 30-39 age groups make up two-thirds of the group (67.8%). A quarter of the group (26.2%) say they are partially health-conscious, while 20.2% feel a strong urge to switch to a diet they consider to be healthier. Two-thirds of the cluster performs physical activity on a regular basis, spending on average 31-60 minutes on it daily. Variety seekers typically (38.1%) spend between 5 hours 31 minutes and 8 hours 30 minutes sitting daily. Uncertain brand choosers (cluster 4)

It is important for Uncertain brand choosers people to buy high quality health foods, they are the ones who clearly identify product quality with a high price. Compared to the sample average, they are more likely to look for new types of health foods to buy, but these are not accumulated in their homes. They consider shopping less enjoyable and usually do this activity quickly. They have a few favorite brands that they are loyal to. They believe they should plan their shopping more carefully. For them, it takes time to choose carefully for the best possible purchase, many times it is even difficult to choose the store where they want to shop. It presents a great difficulty for them when they have to choose from a number of brands, a large selection confuses them. Compared to the sample average, they consider themselves less health-conscious, but they would like to make an effort to buy health foods in the near future.

The fourth cluster makes up one-fourth of our sample (25%). This group is also characterized by the majority of women (54.7%). Age groups 50-59 (16%) and over 60 years (18.7%) dominate this group. This cluster contains a higher proportion of partially health-conscious respondents (28%) who would like to take steps in the near future to switch to a diet they consider healthier (22.7%). Uncertain brand-loyal people tend to engage in occasional physical activity (32%), spending less than 30 minutes on it. On average, they spend between 2 hours 31 minutes and 5 hours 30 minutes (32%) sitting daily.

The four clusters show distinctly different socio-demogpraphic characteristics and represent different value dimensions in relation to attitudes towards health foods. They are at different stages in the transition to a diet that is considered healthy. Significant differences can be detected in our sample regarding the regularity and duration of physical activity and the diet considered to be healthier. However, a sedentary lifestyle cannot be considered determinant of attitudes towards health foods.

5. Summary

In the online space, when balancing nutrition and exercise, consumers clearly place more emphasis on healthy eating, based on our netnographic survey. Search engine hit lists show a variable rate growth from year to year in the area of healthy eating and exercise. For the keyword healthy eating, a nearly tenfold increase was observed between 2017 and 2021. In social media, in the common subset of diet and exercise, four main types of content can be distinguished, the most popular of which are posts dealing with a combination of training plans and recipes. Our focus group studies have highlighted that different consumer preferences can be observed for health foods depending on whether we are talking about active or passive groups. According to the active group, the most important feature of a healthy lifestyle is the consumption of health foods, while the passive group believes that the most important thing to be informed about what is healthy and what is not. The active group characterizes health foods with being free of something, while the passive group characterizes them with fortification with something. Those who engage in physical activity regularly are more open to consuming health foods and are more affected by diet-related trends. Based on our quantitative research, attitudes towards health foods are determined by four value dimensions. In the Health- and self-conscious attitude, consumption of health foods is of paramount importance. The Recreational, hedonistic attitude is characterized by the joy of shopping. In the Uncertain, confused value dimension, uncertainty and indecisiveness stand out, which is reflected in both store and brand choices. The Devoted, brand-loyal attitude identifies quality with a high price, and both store and brand selection are carried out along definite ideas. Following factor analysis, sample segmentation was performed, resulting in the identification of four major groups. Among the clusters, Uninterested people represent the smallest proportion of our sample, and they undervalue all statements. The Uninterested group does not want to switch to a diet they consider healthier, for them it is not important to consume health foods. They perform physical activity infrequently and for a short period of time. The Health-oriented cluster is characterized by the exact opposite set of values. For them, it is important to buy health foods and they make an effort to do so. Shopping itself is not a pleasant activity for them. Members of the cluster perform physical activity regularly and for longer periods of time, and they have the highest proportion of actors and maintainers among the stages of the diet they consider healthy. For Variety seekers, quality is not related to a high price. They are looking for new types of health foods, however, they are more motivated by the joy of shopping. they are not loyal to a particular store or brand type. They engage in physical activity regularly and feel a strong urge to switch to a diet they consider healthier. In contrast, Uncertain brand choosers people stick to one brand type, but are confused by a large selection of brands. They consider themselves less health-conscious, but in the future they would like to strive to buy health foods and also to switch to a diet they consider healthier. Typically, they perform physical activity occasionally and for shorter periods of time.

According to the results of our research, the purchase and consumption of health foods and attitudes towards health foods are related to the diet and physical activity of the individuals, however, independent of the time consumers spend sitting daily.

6. Acknowledgment

This publication was supported by the project titled Debrecen Venture Catapult Program, No. EFOP-3.6.1-16-2016-00022. The prject was supported by the European Union and co-financed by the European Social Fund.

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Consumer acceptance of food nanotechnology

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Consumer acceptance of food nanotechnology

DOI: https://doi.org/10.52091/EVIK-2021/3-2-ENG

Received: March 2021 – Accepted: June 2021


1 University of Debrecen, Faculty of Economics and Business, Institute of Marketing and Commerce


food industry developments, food nanotechnology, consumer acceptance, willingness to buy, food industrial use of titanium dioxide

1. Summary

Today, food industry developments are driven by two megatrends: global warming and the need to address nutrition-related adverse health consequences (diseases of civilization, obesity, hunger and an aging society). As a result, consumer preferences have also changed, as „everyday” needs such as the acceptable price, pleasant taste and safe consumption of foods, as well as for the food to satisfy physiological needs, have become essential requirements and do not represent a demonstrable market advantage. The market presence of a product is expected to be successful if, in addition to the above, its ingredients and physiological effects can be demonstrated to improve or increase consumer well-being, their state of health or physical performance.

One of the fastest growing disciplines today is nanotechnology, which has many applications in the food industry. Even though this technology brings unprecedented benefits to consumers and may be able to solve many global problems, nanofoods also carry many risks and dangers. Although nanotechnology is still unknown to many, the willingness to buy is very high among those interviewed if the technology improves some of the properties of the food. Based on their attitudes, consumers can be divided into two well-distinguishable groups: those who see potential advantages and disadvantages in radically different ways.

2. Introduction – nanotechnology

One of the most dynamically developing disciplines today is the research of nanoscale materials. Research and application of nanotechnology is one of the great scientific, developmental and technical challenges of the 21st century.

Nanotechnology means the production, of materials, devices and systems that use artificially formed nanoparticles, i.e., particles of material that do not exceed 100 nanometers in size [1]. Nanostructured materials are also found in nature (e.g., clays, zeolites), but can be produced artificially as well.

Many nanotechnological applications are known in practice. Examples include highly resistant materials used in construction; lightweight, elastic clothing and sports equipment made of materials resistant to physical stress; self-cleaning paints that protect buildings from, for example, the harmful effects of smog and other contaminants; nanosensors that enable efficient and economical quality control in the food industry; highly miniaturized electronic devices; antibacterial coatings for industrial equipment and household appliances; selective release and high bioavailability drugs; innovative tools for the remediation of contaminated soils and waters. However, in addition to the benefits, nanotechnology poses risks to the environment and human health that are difficult to assess. Scientific research, while still proving to be scarce, suggests that nanoparticles are more reactive and mobile than larger particles and can therefore be toxic to humans and the environment. Little is known about the fate of nanoparticles in the environment. In the human body, nanoparticles may be able to cross the cell membrane and reach internal organs. Some studies have shown that many types of nanoparticles cause greater oxidative stress at the cellular level, increasing the risk of degenerative diseases [1].

2.1. Nanotechnology in the food industry

Due to their special properties, the use of nanostructured materials can also be promising in many food applications [2].

Foods containing nanoparticles should be considered as novel foods under Regulation (EC) No 258/97, as foods or food ingredients produced by such technology were not consumed in significant quantities in the European Union before May 15, 1997; thus, their placing on the market is preceded by an authorization procedure accompanied by a rigorous safety assessment [2]. As part of the authorization process, EU regulation has recently required food ingredients derived from the use of nanotechnologies to undergo a safety assessment before they can be placed on the market, and only then can they be authorized [3]. Related to this, the term nanofood has emerged to refer to foods that are produced, processed or packaged using a nanotechnology technique or device, or to which a nanomaterial is added and/or is enriched with a nanomaterial [4].

Nanotechnologies aimed at improving food quality or safety can theoretically be diverse, but their practical application is still in its infancy. Since food nanotechnology is also a new field for food science, nanotechnology is also a major challenge for the food economy, including food security and safety, traceability, certain areas of food processing and packaging, some new opportunities for nutrient intake, longer food shelf life and many other aspects of consumer protection, from agricultural production to the consumers’ tables [2].

The use of nanoparticles in food processing can contribute to the improvement of nutritional quality, taste, color and stability or to increasing shelf life and, in the case of liquid foods, to the improvement of flow properties. An additional benefit of nanotechnology may be that it can contribute to the development of foods with lower fat, sugar and salt content, thereby reducing the incidence of food-related diseases [5].

Currently, these products are available in four categories:

  • nanostructured food ingredients and substances, such as nano-titanium dioxide, which is used as an anti-caking agent or pigment;
  • nanostructured delivery systems that improve the bioavailability of bioactive compounds in fortified foods and supplements;
  • novel packaging materials designed to strengthen the protective function of the product;
  • and the use of food contact materials for food processing and storage, such as nano-silver, which is used for its antimicrobial properties [6, 7, 8, 9].

Nanotechnology is currently considered to be the most widespread among food industrial commercial applications in the packaging process [2, 10]. Several types of use of nanomaterials in packaging materials can be distinguished. In the case of nanocomposites, advantageous properties (mechanical or functional, e.g., gastightness, temperature / humidity stability) are achieved by adding nanoparticles to the plastic.

A similar effect can be achieved with nanocoatings applied to the surface of the packaging material. Aluminum coatings applied with the help of vacuum are now widespread mainly in the packaging of snacks, confectionery and coffee. For example, if the thickness of the aluminum layer applied as a coating does not exceed 50 nm, the coating metal can be considered a nanomaterial [11]. In addition to the above, there are several applications that are still in the research phase [12, 13, 14, 15], such as newly developed food packaging capable of detecting the presence of pathogens and contaminants.

Although this technology offers consumers unprecedented benefits such as higher added value, longer shelf life and increased food safety, nanofoods also pose health, environmental, economic, social and political risks [16, 17]. According to Berekaa, despite the huge benefits that nanoparticles can bring to the food industry, the public is very concerned about their toxicity and potential negative environmental impact. Due to the health consequences of the nanoparticles entering the human body, their potential risks to human health need to be assessed without delay [5]. In his paper, Halliday points out that EU regulations on food and food packaging require a specific risk assessment before nanomaterials are placed on the market [18].

In the course of our research, it was examined to which extent the concept of nanotechnology in the food industry has spread in the public consciousness, i.e., presumably how many people are aware of this technology and its potential application in the food industry. Following this, it was assessed how receptive consumers were about the technology, how they saw its future, and whether they would be willing to buy nanofoods. In our work, the potential dangers of nanotechnology were analyzed, and also the areas in which they may occur, as well as how attitudes, consumer acceptance and willingness to buy change in the light of this.

2.1.1. Foods and packaging materials produced using nanotechnology – some examples [1] Creamier ice cream with unchanged fat content

When making ice cream that is creamier than traditional ones, titanium dioxide consisting of nano-sized grains is added to the raw material of ice cream to increase its creaminess and improve its taste, while keeping its fat content the same as that of traditional ice creams. In its nano form, titanium dioxide is thought to be cytotoxic, however, no data have been found in the scientific literature on the mechanism of absorption of nano TiO2 from the intestinal tract. Table salt and sugar that do not form lumps with moisture

Nano-sized particles of titanium dioxide are added to table salt and sugar as anti-caking agent. For toxicological aspects see Section Fruit juices enriched with bioactive molecules

Bioactive molecules such as phytosterols, vitamins and antioxidants are added to fruit juices by the way of nanoencapsulation to improve them. Nanoencapsulation is not known to have adverse health effects. Bread enriched with omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are added to bread by nanoencapsulation; this way the unpleasant taste of the fatty acids is not felt, and thus the fortified bread retains its traditional taste. Nanoencapsulation is not known to have adverse health effects. Plastic bottles for beer

Beer bottles with a modified composition are produced by adding a nanocomposite material containing clay particles. The purpose of clay-polymer nanocomposites is to minimize carbon dioxide loss and oxygen uptake to extend the shelf life of carbonated beverages. The toxicological effects of the nanolayer are unknown; it has not yet been demonstrated that nanoparticles can be released from the packaging material. Antimicrobial food packaging for meat and other foods

Food packaging materials containing active nano-silver inhibit the growth of microbes and help to prevent possible bacterial contamination. Nanoparticle-sized silver is presumably cytotoxic. It has not yet been demonstrated that nanoparticles can be released from the packaging material.

3. Materials and methods

To answer the research questions, online questionnaire interviews involving 200 people were conducted. During the sampling, the snowball method was used, i.e., the selection of the sample was not random, but in this way we were able to reach a wide range of respondents. Under these conditions, the survey cannot be considered representative, the results obtained can only be applied to the actual respondents. Background variables of the questionnaire included gender, age, place of residence, education and average income.

In the course of the questionnaire survey, consumer attitudes towards nanotechnology in the food industry were assessed using 17 closed-ended questions. Then, in order to be able to analyze them in depth, two focus group studies were conducted. Consumers’ attitudes towards the topic were determined in advance by screening questions, based on which they were classified into one of the two focus groups. The first group included consumers who rejected nanotechnology based on the screening questions, while participants in the second group viewed this technology favorably. During the formation of the two groups, we sought to ensure that the consumers interviewed were included in the research in an equal distribution with regard to gender. In terms of age, people between the ages of 20 and 65 participated in the interviews.

Due to the pandemic situation at the time of the research, the two groups of eight people each were interviewed via an online platform.

At the beginning of the focus group interviews, participants were asked to briefly introduce themselves, and then two passages, taken from Sodano et al.’s communication and translated into Hungarian [1], were read aloud in the first half of the discussions. The first text introduced nanotechnology in general, while the second part described six products that had been made by some kind of nanotechnological process, but only the advantageous properties of the products have been emphasized in the description. The first half of the interview questions concerned the awareness and acceptance of nanotechnology in the food industry, but group members also had to answer questions related to the texts they had heard.

In the second half of the focus group discussion, the part of the text that highlights the potential risks and negative impacts associated with the technology and, thus, the products was read aloud. Following this, once again participants were asked questions, this time focusing on the risks, and it was examined how much their attitude towards the topic had changed.

4. Results and evaluation

In this chapter, the most important results of the primary research are presented, in the order they took place.

4.1. Results of the questionnaire survey

The first question of the questionnaire focused on factors considered important when purchasing food. This was important because, after this, the backbone of the research was the examination of the acceptance of nanotechnology in the food industry, taking into account the categories mentioned here. As can be seen from Figure 1, of the factors listed, taste was mentioned first, i.e., for 76.0% of the respondents taste was the most important consideration when purchasing or selecting a food. Based on the comparison with the background variables, it was revealed that men in the sample had a significantly (p=0.014) higher proportion (80.0%) who considered taste important than women (61.2%), and also that consumers who, according to their own statements, live in better-than-average financial conditions (live well on their income and can also save some money) also consider taste to be an important criterion when choosing (88.9%).

Slightly behind, high quality (68.5%) and price (63.5%) was second and third in terms of purchasing considerations. As had been expected previously, for these categories, 86.2% of those with a sound financial background rated high quality as an important aspect, while in terms of price, this proportion fell to 47.3%.

High food safety was considered important even less than one half of the respondents (47.0%), which may be due to the fact that they were not aware of the specific meaning of the term.

Respondents considered added value (for example, higher omega-3 fatty acid content) to be the least important aspect, with this factor ranking last of the listed ones with 17.5%. Only 20.0% of men and 16.4% of women consider this category when purchasing food. In terms of financial status, this criterion was least important for consumers with below-average income (7.0%).

Figure 1. Aspects considered important when buying food (N=200)

In the following, the proportion of respondents with knowledge on nanotechnology in the food industry (spontaneous recall) was examined. The innovative and novel nature of the technology is also supported by the fact that only a quarter of respondents have heard of it.

When the four categories of nanotechnology currently available in the food industry were also listed [6, 7, 8, 9] (supported knowledge), only 62.0% of consumers still answered that they had not yet heard of the new technology in question (Figure 2). Of the entire sample, there was only one person who had heard of all the categories listed. Of the four categories, packaging materials made using nanotechnology were the best known (28.5%). 11.5% each of the participants in the survey have already heard of nanostructured food ingredients and materials, as well as the use of food contact nanomaterials, respectively. Respondents were least familiar with nanostructured delivery systems, the proportion in this case was not even 5.0%. Consumers who have heard of this category had some kind of college degree.

Figure 2. Knowledge of the four categories of food nanotechnology among respondents (N=200)

In the following, the acceptance of nanotechnology in the food industry was examined using the aspects listed in the first question that were considered important at the time of purchase. The results are shown in Table 1.

Table 1. Willingness to buy food produced by nanotechnological development, taking into account certain aspects (N=200)

Based on the results obtained (for the sample), it can be said in general that the majority is open to the new technology if it has a beneficial effect on one of the properties of the food purchased. 71.9% of respondents would buy food made with nanotechnology if its organoleptic properties were better. Of the aspects considered important when buying food, taste finished first: 76% of respondents chose this factor. It should be noted that a greater willingness to buy due to more favorable sensory properties was an expected outcome. The older age group gave the highest proportion of affirmative answers to this characteristic (89.5%, p=0.047), and there was no significant relationship to the other background variables. In order to have a positive effect on the texture of foods, 68.8% of the consumers in the sample would buy a product made with a nanotechnological process. In the hope of better texture, 85.2% of respondents aged 56-65 would be open to buying products made with the new technology. A significant increase in the shelf life and use-by date of foods due to the nanotechnology process had an incentive effect on shopping for 62.5% of respondents. In the case of this question, a significantly higher proportion of women answered yes than men (women: 70.0%, men: 46.3%). 78.6% of the respondents to the questionnaire would buy food made with some kind of nanotechnology process if it increased food safety. 90% of the older age group and 78.6% of women were represented in the „yes” answers in this regard. 63.0% of respondents answered „yes” to the question of whether they would buy a food produced with nanotechnology development if it has added value such as a higher omega-3 fatty acid content. This represents an exceptionally high proportion considering that added value as a purchase criterion finished last in terms of importance with 17.5%. Thus, although it is typically not an important factor for the consumers in the sample that the food has some added value, they would still choose a product manufactured with nanotechnology that is richer in omega-3 fatty acids. Finally, 78.1% of respondents were open to food packaging produced with a new method that guarantees safer storage. In this case as well, women and those aged 55-65 had the highest proportion of „yes” answers.

Figure 3 illustrates how many percents more respondents would be willing to pay for a food that has been produced or modified using some kind of nanotechnology process. Typically, the additional cost consumers in the sample considered most acceptable was between 0% (i.e., they would not pay more at all for a product manufactured with this technology) and 5-10% (30.7% and 30.7% of respondents, respectively). 22.4% would pay 0-5% more and 15.6% would pay 10-20% more for this type of food. The proportion of respondents willing to assume an additional cost of more than 20% did not even reach one percent. Consumers who would be willing to pay 0-5% more for a product manufactured with nanotechnology are those who have a lower-than-average monthly net income, while respondents who say they live in better-than-average financial conditions would be willing to pay 5-10%, 10-15%, 15-20%, or even more than 20% more for such foods.

Figure 3. Willingness to pay extra for foods made with nanotechnology (N=200)

In our research, it was also addressed how respondents felt about the possible adverse consequences of nanotechnology in the food industry. Based on the results obtained, it was found that more than half of the questionnaire respondents (53.6%) believed that foods made with the nanotechnology process carry unknown hazards. In this case, in terms of proportions, men can be said to be the most skeptical, with 74.3% saying that nanotechnology in the food industry could pose a risk.

Figure 4 shows the probability of the occurrence of the different hazards in the opinion of the respondents in percentage distribution. 71.4% of respondents who consider the technology to be risky believed that foods made with the nanotechnology process pose mainly health risks. This was followed by environmental risks (56.3%). In this case, almost twice as many women believed that nanotechnology in the food industry could cause environmental damage (p=0.020). Consumers in the sample considered negative economic and social impacts to be the least probable. For these two categories, typically women were also in the significant majority (p=0.001). However, it can be said for all categories that respondents with higher education represented a higher proportion.

Figure 4. Probability of occurrence of potential risks of foods made by nanotechnology according to the respondents (N=107)

4.2. Results of the focus group studies

Since the main objective of our research was to examine nanotechnology in the food industry from a consumer perspective and to explore the expected rate of acceptance and possible rejection of the technology, after examining the quantitative results of the online questionnaire, it was considered appropriate to analyze the responses received in more depth using a qualitative method, therefore, focus group interviews were conducted to facilitate interpretation.

4.2.1. Results of the focus group study of people accepting nanotechnology in the food industry

Our discussion began with an association game designed to resolve any anxieties of the interviewees. Members of the group were asked to say positive and/or negative words and phrases that come to mind in connection with the topic. The following words were mentioned: innovation, invention, new opportunities, interesting, sci-fi, foods of the future, possible solutions to many problems.

The next question was whether they had already encountered any of the listed categories of nanotechnology applications or something similar (creamier ice cream with the same fat content; salt and sugar that do not form lumps with moisture; fruit juices enriched with bioactive molecules; bread enriched with omega-3 fatty acids; plastic bottles for beer; antimicrobial food packaging for meat and other foods). All of the respondents had already met soft drinks and beers packed in special PET bottles. Fruit juices enriched with various vitamins, minerals and antioxidants were mentioned by several people, and one person saw bread enriched with omega-3 fatty acids in a store while shopping (he didn’t remember exactly which store it was). In addition to the categories read aloud, they have seen eggs that contained excess omega-3 fatty acids, known various dietary supplements to which vitamins, minerals or antioxidants were added, and a participant had read on the internet about an intelligent packaging material that recognizes contaminants. He did not remember whether the packaging material had been made with nanotechnology in the food industry, but he believed that this category fit exactly into this topic.

Following this, those present were asked to express their views and evaluate how they perceived the six categories described above. Positive thoughts were associated with the products by everyone. They were thought to be useful in many ways, and it was thought to be a good idea to add such extra values to foods that allow people to get vitamins and other minerals without having to take separate capsules into their body. According to the participants, the facts that the use of nanotechnology can make food storage safer and increase shelf life can also be advantages. When asked if they would like to buy this type of food, all participants answered in the affirmative. One person stated that he was somewhat averse to nanotechnology-modified ice cream, while two people said the same thing about bread enriched with omega-3 fatty acids, but they could not specifically explain why.

This was followed by solving a task together, in which members of the group were asked to jointly establish an order for the six products based on which they considered to be the most sympathetic and which the least. The popularity of the products is illustrated by the data in Table 2.

Table 2. Order of listed categories of food nanotechnology by popularity among acceptors

The group unanimously agreed with the assumption that in the future we would encounter many of these or similar products on store shelves. It was thought that foods produced with nanotechnology were likely to become more widespread if the pace of food industry developments remained the same. One of our interviewees said that due to the overpopulation of the Earth and the constant decline of arable land, it will be necessary to deploy such tools in order to avoid an increasing rate of hunger and malnutrition, and to prevent people from suffering from the lack of certain nutrients. Everyone has accepted the vision that foods produced with such technology and other similar developments will become more popular and accessible, provided, of course, that they will be available at affordable prices. Intelligent food packaging that recognizes bacteria and contaminants has been found to be especially useful and practical.

According to them, basic foods (dairy products, pasta, flours, cereal flakes) could also be enriched with added values (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants).

In the second half of the focus group interview, the part of the texts was read aloud that described the potential risks involved in using the technology. Following this, it was assessed whether participants’ opinions, attitudes and willingness to buy changed as a result of what they had heard. The majority believed that if it were not safe to consume a product, it would ultimately not be able to be marketed. According to another opinion, while it sounded a little scary, and so he would think twice about buying this type of product, he still would not reject the technology.

Finally, participants were asked to reconsider, in light of the information they had learned, the order established above, as to which category they would be most likely to purchase. For better comparability, the order before describing potential hazards and the new order are listed in the same table. The results are shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Order of the listed categories of food nanotechnology according to preference before and after the description of the potential risks among the acceptors

Although the final order was changed at several points, the opinions and willingness to buy of the group members did not change significantly after the exploration of possible dangers.

4.2.2. Results of the focus group study of people rejecting nanotechnology in the food industry

The study scenario in this case was the same as it was for the previous group. Presentation of the first part of the text was followed by an association game, the essence of which was that participants had to say adjectives and expressions, whether positive or negative, that came tom mind about nanotechnology. This time, compared to the interviews with the accepting group, the opinions (answers) were much more mixed: innovative, dangerous, bizarre, this is the future, foods made in a laboratory, unnatural. One of our interviewees also noted that these products were likely to be very expensive.

Of the six products made with nanotechnology in the food industry, half of the group had already encountered fruit juices enriched with bioactive molecules, and everyone was familiar with the special PET bottles. As similar products, sports drinks and dietary supplements fortified with vitamins and minerals were mentioned, which had already been encountered by them in retail trade, and one person had already read online about packaging materials made with nanotechnology, and another participant cited a scientific paper on artificial meat as an example.

Following this, once again, members of the group were asked to share their views on the six products which had been introduced at the beginning of the interview. Someone thought it was extremely scary to hear about these, while others thought that they would be very unhealthy for sure. Many people felt that it was unnecessary to enrich fruit juices with such substances when they were already full of vitamins anyway. The idea of bread enriched with omega-3 fatty acids was specifically thought to be „crazy”. One participant did not consider packaging to be a bad idea, and two of them also commented favorably on PET bottles.

When asked whether they would buy these products, the answer was clearly no. The group was less prone to rejection in the case of the PET bottles, with 4 people inclined to buy, and one person said the same about antimicrobial packaging.

Subsequently, the group rejecting nanotechnology also had to jointly establish an order for the six products, based on acceptability (in this case, we cannot speak of popularity, as the members of the group reject nanotechnology in the food industry). The results are shown in Table 4.

Table 4. The order of the listed categories of food nanotechnology based on consumer acceptance among rejectors

Regarding the vision for the future, participants believed that the trend of developments suggests that more and more products of this kind will be available commercially. There was also a remark in this regard that „the world is not moving in the right direction”. One person added that he was confident that we would stick to natural food sources. Several people agreed with the statement that if it is not the food industry that works with such technology, but the construction or textile industry, it may even be useful. When asked whether they would like more of these products to be available in the future, the group’s response was a clear and consistent no.

The final chapter of the focus group interview concentrated on the potential risks of nanotechnology. After discussing the potential dangers of nanotechnology with participants, their opinions were asked. Their position did not change much after what they had heard, since, as they said, they had not considered it to be a good idea, and it only strengthened their belief that such a technology could have negative consequences. The unanimous opinion of the group was that they would continue to not buy such products as they are sure that they are harmful not only to human health but also to the environment.

As a final task, participants were asked to, in possession of all the information, jointly establish a new, final order as to which category they would consider most acceptable and which least acceptable. Compared to the previous one, the order did not change much, and the result was as follows. The orders before and after the description of the risks (new order) are shown in Table 5.

Table 5. Order of listed categories of food nanotechnology according to acceptance before and after description of potential risks among rejectors

5. Conclusions

Despite the fact that 74.5% of the respondents were not previously familiar with nanotechnology and its application possibilities, and almost half of the respondents believed that it involved some risk, the survey of knowledge of nanotechnology and the examination of consumers’ willingness to buy revealed that the degree of acceptance of the technology and the willingness to buy can be said to be very favorable. If, through this technology, food quality is expected to change in a positive direction, acceptance exceeds 60%.

The most important aspect when buying foods was taste, while added value finished last with 17.5%. Nevertheless, 63.0% of those who completed the questionnaire replied that they would buy a product made with a nanotechnology process if the product thus contained some kind of added value.

The focus group interview revealed that the group of acceptors, as expected, was extremely positive about the technology, and even after the description of the potential risks, neither their opinion, nor their willingness to buy typically changed.

Reaffirming Berekaa’s claim that the public is very concerned about toxicity and potential negative environmental effects [5], in the case of the group of rejectors, participants unanimously stated that the technology is extremely risky and dangerous to both the environment and humans. However, they also added that in their view and based on the trends, the proliferation of commercially available such products will be inevitable in the future. In their case it can be said that although they do not prefer the possibilities of using nanotechnology, their rejection was less pronounced for those categories of application of the technology that do not specifically change the properties of foods, but their peripherals (such as packaging).

In Chapter 3 of our paper, the statements of Sodano were already quoted, according to which the willingness to buy nanofoods for the six categories examined (creamier ice cream with the same fat content; salt and sugar that do not form lumps with moisture; fruit juices enriched with bioactive molecules; bread enriched with omega-3 fatty acids; plastic bottles for beer; antimicrobial food packaging for meat and other foods) depends to a large extent on the assessment of the perceived risks and benefits [1]. Our results obtained in the course of our research support this, as the willingness to buy of consumers who already had a positive attitude towards the technology is also very favorable, while rejectors showed the opposite consumer behavior.

6. Acknowledgment

This publication was prepared with the professional support of the New National Excellence Program of the Ministry of Innovation and Technology, code number ÚNKP-20-3-I-DE-404, financed from the National Research, Development and Innovation Fund.

7. References

[1] Sodano, V., Gorgitano, M.T., Verneau, F. (2015): Consumer acceptance of food nanotechnology in Italy. British Food Journal 118 (3) pp. 714-733

[2] Zentai A., Frecskáné Csáki K., Szeitzné Szabó M., Farkas J., Beczner J. (2014): Nanoanyagok felhasználása az élelmiszeriparban. Magyar Tudomány 175 (8) pp. 983-993

[3] Cubadda, F., Aureli, F., D Amato, M., Raggi, A., Mantovani, A. (2013): Nanomaterials in the food sector: new approaches for safety assessment. Rapporti ISTISAN 13/48.

[4] Joseph, T. and Morrison, M (2006): Nanoforum report: nanotechnology in agriculture and food. (Hozzáférés: 2014. 06. 12.).

[5] Berekaa, M. M. (2015): Nanotechnology in food industry; Advances in Food processing, Packaging and Food Safety. International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences 4 (5) pp. 345-357

[6] Chaudhry, Q., Scotter, M., Blackburn, J., Ross, B., Boxall, A., Castle, L. y and Watkins, R. (2008): Applications and implications of nanotechnologies for the food sector. Food Additives and Contaminants 25 (3) pp. 241-258

[7] Cushen, M., Kerry, J., Morris, M., Cruz-Romero, M. and Cummins, E. (2012): Nanotechnologies in the food industry. Trends in Food Science & Technology 24 (1) pp. 30-46

[8] Weir, A., Westerhoff, P., Fabricius, L., Hristovski, K. and von Goetz, N. (2012): Titanium dioxide nanoparticles in food and personal care products. Environmental Science & Technology 46 (4) pp. 2242-2250 DOI

[9] Mura, S., Seddaiu, G., Bacchini, F., Roggero, P.P. and Greppi, G.F. (2013): Advances of nanotechnology in agro-environmental studies. Italian Journal of Agronomy 8 (18) pp. 127-140

[10] Chaudhry, Q., Castle, L., Watkins, R. (2010): Nanotechnologies in Food. Royal Society of Chemistry Publishers, Cambridge, UK.

[11] Bradley, E. L., Castle, L., Chaudhry, Q. (2011): Applications of Nanomaterials in Food Packaging with a Consideration of Opportunities for Developing Countries. Trends in Food Science & Technology 22 pp. 604-610

[12] Sozer, N. and Kokini, J.L. (2009): Nanotechnology and its applications in the food sector. Trends in Biotechnology, 27 (2) pp. 82-89.

[13] Neethirajan, S. and Jayas, D.S. (2011): Nanotechnology for the food and bioprocessing industries. Food and Bioprocess Technology 4 (1) pp. 39-47

[14] Cushen, M., Kerry, J., Morris, M., Cruz-Romero, M., Cummins, E. (2012): Nanotechnologies in the food industry. Trends in Food Science & Technology 24 (1) pp. 30-46

[15] Qureshi, M.A., Karthikeyan, S., Karthikeyan, P., Khan, P.A., Uprit, S. and Mishra, U.K. (2012): Application of nanotechnology in food and dairy processing: an overview. Pakistan Journal of Food Sciences 22 (1) pp. 23-31

[16] Cockburn, A., Bradford, R., Buck, N., Constable, A., Edwards, G., Haber, B., Hepburn, P., Howlett, J., Kampers, F., Klein, C., Radomski, M., Stamm, H., Wijnhoven, S. and Wildermann, T. (2012): Approaches to the safety assessment of engineered nanomaterials (ENM) in food. Food and Chemical Toxicology 50 (6) pp. 2224-2242

[17] Hubbs, A.F., Sargent, L.M., Porter, D.W., Sager, T.M., Chen, B.T., Frazer, D.G. and Battelli, L.A. (2013): Nanotechnology toxicologic pathology. Toxicologic Pathology 41 (2) pp. 395-409

[18] Halliday, J. (2007): EU Parliament votes for tougher additives regulation. FoodNavigator.com (Hozzáférés: 2014. 06. 12.).


Assessing packaging-related knowledge on the basis of a quantitative study

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Assessing packaging-related knowledge on the basis of a quantitative study

DOI: https://doi.org/10.52091/EVIK-2021/3-3-ENG

Received: February 2021 – Accepted: June 2021


1 University of Szeged, Faculty of Engineering, Institute of Engineering Management and Economy


packaging material, polymers, plastics, bioplastics, degradable plastics, plastic types, consumer behavior, consumer demographics, eco-awareness

1. Summary

Packaging technology is one of today’s rapidly evolving disciplines, with innovative implications for many other disciplines, such as the food industry. Plastics can also be referred to as the materials of the 21st century, without which we could hardly imagine our lives today. Bioplastics are made from raw materials from renewable sources, while degradable plastics are mixtures of plastics made from conventional raw materials and additives that aid degradation. In my qualitative, online study, 513 people answered my questions about what the main function of packaging is, what characteristics a packaging material should possess, foods in which packaging are preferred, whether they had ever encountered environmentally friendly packaging materials. In addition to a lot of useful information, it turned out that Hungarian people are typically eco-conscious on paper, but in reality they do not pay enough attention to it. It is primarily college graduate women between the ages of 46 and 65 who also take environmental and ecological considerations into account when buying food.

2. Introduction

Packaging technology research is one of today’s rapidly evolving disciplines, with innovative implications for many other disciplines, such as the food industry. The advent of plastic packaging materials has opened up new perspectives in improving the shelf life of foods. The history of plastics goes back only 155 years, while the use of bioplastics has a history of only a few decades. Nevertheless, application of the latter has been increasing in recent times at a rate which is significantly higher rate than that of conventional plastics.

In recent years, there has been a significant increase in interest in natural polymers on the part of both industry and academia, which is presumably related to the difficulties in the field of waste management and the relevant regulation. A further incentive for the development of bioplastics may be the declining amount of fossil raw materials available for the industry.

2.1. Aim of the study

In my study, I sought to answer the following questions:

  • What do consumers think about packaging in general?
  • How do they see the need to package food products?
  • Do they know environmentally friendly packaging materials?
  • Are the properties of the packaging material taken into account when purchasing?
  • What characteristics are considered important when choosing packaging material?

3. Literature review

3.1. Position, definition and properties of plastics

Plastics are macromolecules composed of monomers that are made artificially, entirely or in part [1]. Polymers (from the Greek, meaning many parts) are mainly composed of eight chemical elements: C, H, O, N, Cl, F, S, Si. These atoms are linked to each other by covalent bonds to form molecules. The small molecules used in polymer production are traditionally produced from petroleum. Today, significant research is being conducted to be able to produce these from renewable raw materials [2].

Plastics can also be referred to as the materials of the 21st century, without which we could hardly imagine our lives today. On the one hand, artificial polymers can be produced economically and, on the other hand, they allow technical solutions that would not otherwise be possible [3]. The impact of plastics and plastic packaging materials on our environment is the subject of an extensive debate among both professional and lay communities.

Campaigns in recent years have been directed primarily against the use of plastics, although in practice, the use of only a relatively small proportion of them, plastics used for packaging may be responsible for damage to the environment. The plastic waste pollution of the environment is mainly due to the fact that plastic packaging materials can be produced relatively cheaply, they are not of great value after use, so unfortunately they end up as not recycled waste, even if this is not justified [4].

3.2. Plastic packaging and food packaging

Foods are biologically sensitive substances. Their original freshness and shelf life depend on the intrinsic properties of the product and on external conditions. Intrinsic properties are the microbiological state of the food, its composition, water activity and pH. External conditions include processing hygiene, the optimum gas or gas mixture, the packaging machine, the packaging material, and the temperature during processing and storage [5].

The most significant plastic packaging material type is polyethylene. The different polyethylene types are members of the simplest synthetic polymer family produced in the largest amount, polyolefins. The most common types of plastics are polyethylene (01 - PET), high density polyethylene (02 - HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (03 - PVC), low density polyethylene (04 - LDPE), polypropylene (05 – PP) and polystyrene (06 - PS). In parentheses are the conventional codes and abbreviations of the different plastics. The code for other plastics no listed here is 07 [6].

3.3. Bioplastics

Bioplastics are made from raw materials from renewable sources, while degradable plastics are mixtures of plastics made from conventional raw materials and additives that aid degradation. The best known bioplastics discovered in the 20th century are starch-based ones, polylactic acid, poly(hydroxyalkanoate) and polybutylene succinate adipate, and their use has been increasing significantly in recent years.

Life cycle analyses have shown that, compared to conventional plastics, the use of bioplastics can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 to 50% annually [7].

3.4. Consumer behavior, trends

By the concept of consumer behavior we mean the processes and activities that are aimed at obtaining, using and evaluating a given product. In its examination, a significant distinction should be made according to the product group to which the goods to be acquired belong, the so-called nondurable or durable consumer goods [8].

Factors influencing consumer behavior can be grouped as follows [9]:

Cultural factors

  • Culture
  • Subculture
  • Social classes

Social factors

  • Reference group
  • Family
  • Social statuses

Personal factors

  • Age, family, life cycle
  • Economic conditions
  • Occupation
  • Lifestyle
  • Personality

Psychological factors

  • Motivation
  • Perception
  • Learning
  • Beliefs, attitudes

According to the introductory text of the website of Dr. Törőcsik Kft., „The trend is the intensification and spread in society of certain phenomena and processes taking place in the market, which has a significant impact on the behavior and habits of consumers in the foreseeable future” [10].

Among the trends of 2019, environmental awareness has emerged, manifesting itself in Plastic Free July and Straw Free August.

Plastic Free July started in Australia back in 2011 and has since spread around the world. In Hungary, it was first announced in 2018, but became well-known only in 2019 [11].

Hungarian environmental organizations have also embarked on an active campaign, as an image of a turtle drowning because of a plastic straw posted on the internet has made the public realize that animals see plastic waste thrown away by many people as food [12].

4. Materials and methods

In order to achieve the research goal, both secondary and primary information collection were carried out.

During the secondary research, to form the basis for my primary research work, the available Hungarian and international surveys conducted earlier and related to the topic were reviewed.

In the primary data collection, of the marketing research methods, the quantitative procedure was chosen, more specifically the questionnaire survey. In this type of research, due to the large sample size, it is essential to use mathematical-statistical methods, and the results of the research are reported in a quantified way, taking into account the requirement system for statistical reliability tests [13].

The questionnaire was prepared in July 2020, and it was completed through an electronic platform. Online completion was chosen because, over the last en years, online quantitative research has become one of the most important data collection channels for market research. Both researchers and their clients are now convinced that online research not only offers more in terms of speed and cost-effectiveness than personal or telephone data collection, but the reliability and authenticity of the data are also unquestionable [14].

The questionnaire can be divided into two main parts:

  1. Packaging knowledge, opinions, habits related to food products;
  2. Demographic questions (gender, age, education, economic status).

The questionnaire was completed by the respondents between July 20 and 31, 2020.

For the completion, the following two methods were used:

  1. Quota sampling, in which the population was divided into subgroups (based on age groups), and the elements were selected from these; followed by the
  2. Snowball method, which means that the individuals selected previously were asked to forward the link to the questionnaire to people they know who belong to a similar age group.

When designing the research, the goal was to reach 500 people. This goal was slightly exceeded, so the final size of the sample was 513 people.

When processing the data, the program TIBCO Statistica™ Trial Download for Windows Version was used. In most cases, the results obtained were rounded to 2 decimal places, according to the rules of rounding. Where this method was not used (e.g., standard deviation), it is indicated in the paper.

During the evaluation, frequency was examined, cross-tabulation analyses were performed, and descriptive statistical analysis was carried out. Figures were prepared using the 2021 version of Microsoft Excel.

5. Results and evaluation

Basic demographic characteristics of the persons completing the questionnaires are summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Number and distribution of research participants based on demographic data (N=513)

In addition, education and economic status were also examined. 67% had college degrees and 29% had high school diplomas. Approximately 60% of the respondents considered themselves and their family to be in an average economic situation, while roughly 30% classified themselves as having a situation more favorable than average.

Question 1 of the questionnaire was in fact a task. Respondents were asked to describe what comes to mind when they hear the word packaging. About 16% of questionnaire respondents mentioned the word plastic, while only 14% first thought of the term protection. In addition to these two major categories, marketing, paper, waste and garbage were also mentioned.

Question 2 concerned the opinion on the viability of food packaging. Statements were listed and respondents had to decide how much they agreed with them. During the evaluation, the arithmetic mean was calculated, and the statements are arranged in Table 2 in the order of their decreasing value. Means were rounded to 2 decimal places, while the standard deviation was left with the decimal places calculated by the Statistica program.

Table 2. Extent of agreement with statements concerning the viability of packaging, and other related statistical indicators (N=513)

The statements, based on the arithmetic mean showing the agreement, remained in the order they were in the questionnaire. Respondents associated the role of packaging with protection. This is in agreement with the outcome of the association task. These values are well indicated by the median, while the modus decreased from 5 to 1 at the last statement. The degree of the standard deviation changes inversely with the value of the arithmetic mean of the agreement: the average degree of agreement decreases, while the degree of deviation from the mean increases.

In Question 3, the answer was sought whether the research participant had already encountered foods with biodegradable packaging. The answers of the questionnaire respondents are illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Distribution of respondents based on their answers to Question 3 (%, N=513)

Based on this, it was found that more than half of the respondents had already encountered this type of packaging, approximately one-fifth had not, while roughly 1/3 of them admitted that they did not know whether or not they had encountered degradable packaging.

Examining the responses in view of demographic variables, the following results were obtained (Table 3).

Table 3. Distribution of research participants in view of their answers to Question 3, based on demographic criteria (%, N=513)

Remark: Within each category, high values are highlighted in red and bold. The sample number in the age group over 65 is low, so their answers are indicated, but the data were not taken into account in the calculations.

Based on the statistical analysis, it was found that among the subjects interviewed by me, biodegradable packaging had been encountered primarily by individuals meeting the following criteria:

  • Men;
  • Aged 18 to 45;
  • With a college degree

Míg azok, akik nem találkoztak ilyen csomagolással jellemzően:

  • Women;
  • Aged 46 to 65;
  • With a college degree

Although higher education is included in both categories, this is not a contradiction, because the other two groups in terms of education are present in high proportions at the statement Don’t know.

However, answers to Question 4 paint a somewhat more nuanced picture. I tried to eliminate „non-truth tellers”. The question was whether the person in question had a habit of inspecting the food packaging at the time of purchase. Overall, ¾ of the respondents do not examine the food product for the type of packaging, and only ¼ do so occasionally or in all cases.

According to my calculations, only 28.8% of those who answered yes to Question 4 said that they usually inspect the type of packaging in the case of foods, and only 5.84% claimed that they always do so. In contrast, 64.96% usually do not or never do so.

It has been proven that the Hungarian population is very eco-conscious and environmentally friendly in theory, but they are not necessarily so in reality.

In the case of Question 5, respondents were further asked what packaging materials they chose most often when buying food. The frequency distribution is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Distribution of research participants based on their answer to Question 5 (%, N=513)

My previous statement can be supported by the figure, according to which the majority of customers (about 75%) do not check the packaging of the product. This 75% is the sum of those answering Don’t know and What is available. This ratio is the same as the value calculated above. The term Nothing means the following: Nothing, I take packaging with me.

Roughly 10% of the subjects interviewed said they chose products with degradable packaging. Their main demographic characteristics are summarized in Table 4.

Table 4. Main demographic characteristics of those choosing foods with degradable packaging (%, N=513)

Based on the results, those people who actually buy food in degradable packaging belong to the following main demographic groups:

  • Women;
  • Aged 46 to 65;
  • With a college degree;
  • With average income

With uestion 6, the answer was sought what kind of packaging consumers preferred for different types of food. Various product groups were listed, including the meat products to be examined later. Three possibilities were offered to choose from:

  • Pre-packaged product;
  • Unpackaged goods or goods from the counter;
  • I do not usually buy such product

While almost all respondents (93.37%) choose unpackaged goods in the case of fruits and vegetables, the proportion is only about 78.00% in the case of bakery products. The cause for this may be that the increasingly popular specialty bakery products (diet, high-fiber, seeded, etc.) are often sold in a pre-packaged form. In the cases of cheeses and dairy products, the proportion of those choosing pre-packaged products is exceptionally high (75.83%). In the case of meat products, the groups of those choosing pre-packaged and nonpackaged goods are more evenly distributed. The proportions are 47.00% and 46.00% in the case of sliced goods, while they are 41.00% and 49.00% in the case of dry goods sold in the forms of bars, respectively. It is worth noting that, compared to the other product groups, the proportions of those answering I do not usually buy such products are the highest in these two cases (roughly 7% and 10%).

Question 7 again was a scale question. Respondents were asked to indicate the importance of packaging material characteristics listed in the questionnaire on a scale of 1 to 5 already used. The following characteristics had to be assessed:

  • Quality;
  • Thickness;
  • Transparency;
  • Environmentally friendly nature;
  • Recyclability;
  • Degradable nature
Table 5. Average and other statistical indicators showing the importance of packaging parameters (N=513)

From the analysis (Table 5) it can be concluded that the most important parameter according to the respondents is quality, followed by environmental friendliness and recyclability. Each of these received an average value above 4.00. Respondents therefore consider environmental protection to be important.

6. Conclusions

Based on my research, the following were found:

  • Most of the respondents associated the word packaging with plastics, and this was followed by the term “protection”.
  • Participants in the research agreed with the following statement to the greatest extent regarding the purpose of packaging: We protect the product from external damage and contamination.
  • ¾ of the respondents do not inspect food products with respect to the type of packaging, and only ¼ do so occasionally or always.
  • It has been proven that the Hungarian population is very eco-conscious and environmentally friendly in theory, but not necessarily in practice.
  • People who actually buy foods in degradable packaging can be characterized by the following major demographic data:

    • Women;
    • Aged 46 to 65;
    • With a college degree;
    • With an average income.

7. Acknowledgment

The author thanks the tender titled „Improving the competitiveness of traditional PICK products through innovative solutions applied at different stages of the food chain”, No. GINOP-2.2.1-15-2017-00101, for its help in writing this article.

8. References

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