Consumo y percepción de productos ultraprocesados

The EIT Food Consumer Observatory has just published a study that sheds a lot of light on European consumers’ perceptions of ultra-processed foods. The study combines a survey of 10,000 consumers in 17 European countries with a follow-up qualitative study, and one of the main revelations is that 65% of European consumers believe that ultra-processed foods are unhealthy and will cause health problems later in life. Moreover, 67% believe that ultra-processed foods contribute to obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle-related health problems.

Additional interesting findings:

  • 67% of people surveyed say they do not like their food to contain ingredients they do not recognise.
  • 40% do not trust that ultra-processed foods are sufficiently regulated by the authorities to ensure that they are safe and healthy in the long term.
  •  60% consider them to be harmful to the environment, linking ultra-processed foods to the perception of being unnatural, as well as the presence of chemicals and industrial production.
  • 56% indicate that they try to avoid buying ultra-processed products.

Lack of understanding of what ultra-processed foods are

Ultra-processed foods include packaged snacks, sodas, sweetened cereals, energy drinks, chocolate bars, ready-made sauces and dips, as well as salad dressings. Many plant-based substitute foods are also included in this group, as their composition often includes ingredients such as protein isolates, seed oils, emulsifiers, gums, additives.

However, as unhealthy as they may be considered, consumers continue to buy ultra-processed foods. In fact, according to the survey, only 56% say they try not to consume these products.

And it is not just a question of convenience and comfort. A lack of understanding of how products are processed contributes to consumers’ uncertainty about which products to buy: 61% of consumers consider energy drinks to be part of the group of ultra-processed products, 22% consider the plant-based cheese substitute to be part of this group and 34% consider chocolate bars to be part of this group.

This leads to 84% of respondents consuming ultra-processed foods less than five times a week, which is probably an underestimate.

Reluctance towards ultra-processed foods makes consumers less inclined towards plant-based alternatives


Entre un 34% y un 36% percibe productos como los sustitutivos plant based como las piezas de ”pollo” o “queso” vegano como altamente procesados. Es más, estos productos son a menudos vistos como opciones mucho más procesadas que las originales de origen animal, por lo que muchos consumidores prefieren quedarse con esta opción antes que optar por alternativas plant based.

¿Por qué se siguen consumiendo productos ultrapocesados?

The study shows that the main reasons for consuming such products are convenience, taste and price. It should also be noted that the majority of consumers do not plan to reduce their consumption of ultra-processed products, although they do show a willingness to maintain a balance between these and home-prepared foods.

In any case, those consumers who have the least means (in terms of time and money) will be the least able to choose which products to buy, and it is most likely that the level of processing will not be a determining factor in this respect.

Some recommendations

The report concludes with a series of recommendations for food authorities, manufacturers and retailers to build consumer confidence and help consumers make healthier, more informed choices about the foods they eat. Here are some of them:

  • Institutions and scientists need to define ultra-processed foods and make more conclusive and substantiated claims about their short- and long-term healthiness.
  • Health institutions need to consider how to communicate and educate consumers about what food processing means, what it can look like and what effects it can have on health.
  • National dietary recommendations should clarify whether plant-based substitutes are ultra-processed foods and whether this influences their overall healthfulness.

The full report can be downloaded from the project website.