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Functional foods: An empirical study on perceived health benefits in relation to pre‐purchase intentions

Joanne Labrecque (HEC, Montréal, Canada)
Sylvain Charlebois (University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada)

Nutrition & Food Science

ISSN: 0034-6659

Article publication date: 13 September 2011




Functional foods, also known controversially as “phoods,” are perceived by many as the food industry's response to consumers' increasing desire to make healthier eating choices. The objective of the present study is to determine the influence of the production technology used to make functional foods on the perceived health value of functional foods.


To meet the objectives of the study, the paper employs an exploratory study with six conditions. The two factors addressed were the added nutrient (lycopene and beta‐carotene) and the degree of production technology (low, medium, and high). Lycopene and beta‐carotene were both added to two functional foods with different health features, which in this study were orange juice and apple pie. The use of this latter factor supposed that the level “low” implied a product which was improved by adding a food that naturally contained a nutrient, the level “medium” implied that the nutrient was added in the laboratory, and the level “high” refers to an ingredient whose genetic code had been modified in order to introduce the gene producing the nutrient. In order to reduce the effect of the order of presentation of the technology levels, the sequence of levels was randomized.


The results show that perceived health benefits and intention to purchase are not so much influenced by what we pose as graduated stages of production technologies as by a perceived dichotomy between natural and artificial foods. The results also show the extensive mediating effect of perceived risks and benefits on the relationship between experimental conditions, perceived health benefits, and intent to purchase. The results also reveal that pre‐purchase intentions of functional foods are more noteworthy for orange juice, which has a usefulness valence, than for apple pie, which has a less healthy epicurean valence.


This study has various strengths, including a novel intervention that addressed a timely topic for which few data are currently available. The sale of functional foods is a complex practice. This exploratory study took a few steps toward understanding how health benefits of functional foods are perceived and how these perceptions can be better understood by food manufacturers and consumers in today's society.



Labrecque, J. and Charlebois, S. (2011), "Functional foods: An empirical study on perceived health benefits in relation to pre‐purchase intentions", Nutrition & Food Science, Vol. 41 No. 5, pp. 308-318.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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