Newswise — Scientists, educators and marketing experts gathered to discuss how consumers influence and receive food-health and food-safety messages at Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo in New Orleans.

"Taste is what it's all about," said Nancy Childs, PhD, professor of marketing at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. "The more health-related information and claims that manufacturers present, the more taste assurance the consumer needs."

New ingredients and health claims will drive consumers to try a product, but good taste will bring back business, Childs said.

Consumers respond to positive information. They want to hear about health and wellness rather than disease or deficiencies. They go for price value, as well as a product that will fit into their lives and extend their life experience rather than cause them to "jump" into a brand-new way of seeing or tasting foods.

Flavor variety is key. Childs points out how Gatorade in its many flavor incarnations has kept consumers' attention for decades.

What prevents consumers from adopting healthful behaviors, even if they are informed and educated about such issues as food safety and weight reduction?

"People consider themselves knowledgeable already," said Christine Bruhn, PhD, of the University of California, Davis and IFT spokesperson. Her specialty is educating the public about food safety through extension work.

"They've been doing these things just fine for all these years. They think they're invincible. Other people get ill, not me. Still they don't know recommended temperatures (for meats), how to store leftovers, and very few use a meat thermometer. We have to train them on the details," adds Bruhn.

Speaking to consumers directly and personally, especially through the Internet if the audience is younger than 35 years old, is crucial. "Brands can create communities around which people can solve problems," said Childs, who notes that young moms network over the Web with health information.

About IFTFounded in 1939, and with world headquarters in Chicago, Illinois, USA, the Institute of Food Technologists is a not-for-profit international scientific society with 22,000 members working in food science and technology and related professions in industry, academia and government. As the society for food science and technology, IFT brings sound science to the public discussion of food issues. For more on IFT, visit © 2008 Institute of Food Technologists

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2008 Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting and Food Expo