Do consumers really follow cooking instructions?

02 May, 2018

Last year, Leatherhead Food Research carried out more than 15,000 cooking tests. That’s almost 60 per working day, with many on a 48-hour turnaround.

Naturally, we’re always looking for ways to improve the service we offer to clients. But what about the end client – in other words, the consumer?

We teamed up with our consumer research team to find out what consumers really think of on-pack cooking instructions, and whether they actually follow them. Naturally, this is important to maximise food quality and safety. But with WRAP identifying ‘lack of knowledge of how to prepare food and how to cook’ as contributing to the issue of food waste in the home, accurate on-pack cooking instructions are important from a sustainability perspective too. 

Using our online research platform SenseReachTM we elicited feedback from more than 1,300 UK consumers. And the results were enlightening…

What the survey said

Reassuringly, more than 80% of respondents said they follow cooking instructions ‘always’ or ‘most of’ the time. Only a very small number (4%) ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ follow instructions, saying they know from experience how to heat foods and/or that they cook from scratch using fresh food and don’t eat ready meals.

Font size was an issue for around a third of respondents. Many said they use reading glasses or even magnifying glasses to help. Will some of these consumers be compromising food safety or quality as a result? Perhaps it is time for the minimum font size (currently 1.2mm for mandatory information, or 0.9mm if the largest surface area is less than 80cm2) to be reviewed, particularly with an aging population in mind.

It was good to discover that 95% of respondents found on-pack cooking or reheating instructions ‘very easy’ or ‘somewhat easy’ to follow. We understand the importance of this and always check that our instructions are clear and concise. An interesting area for improvement suggested by some was a universal short hand for oven times, similar to that found on clothing washing labels.

Now that we have successfully added microwave testing to our UKAS accredited methods, we decided to delve deeper into consumer use of microwave ovens. Microwaves are owned by 94% of respondents, with Panasonic, Russell Hobbs, Sharp, Samsung and Bosch reported as the top five brands. Furthermore, 800W and 900W are the most common power ratings, followed by 850 and 1000W, though there is a wide variety being used overall.

Use of domestic microwaves has grown significantly since they were first introduced just over 50 years ago in the US. In our survey, 81% of people said they use their microwave either daily or every few days, with reheating leftovers and heating ready meals being the main reasons for use.

Interestingly, 14% of respondents claimed they ‘sometimes’ used a temperature probe at home to check temperatures of foods, and a further 3% claimed they always did. The use of temperature probes at home was mostly for meat and poultry.

Get in touch

Do you need to develop cooking instructions for your new product lines? Or, do you want to verify that your products achieve safe cook temperatures together with a high quality eat? If you do, please drop Sue White an email at cooking.instructions@leatherheadfood.com or call her on +44 (0)1372 376761. We look forward to hearing from you.

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