The question of how best to communicate nutritional information on foods has been a matter of hot debate as new regulation on food information is currently being debated by the European law-making institutions. A number of issues have proved divisive, including where and how mandatory information should be displayed on a pack.
Svetlana Bialkova and Hans van Trijp, researchers from Waganingen University in The Netherlands was aware of evidence that only a minority of consumers use nutrition labels when shopping, which indicates a “bottle-neck” in information provision. For their study, accepted for publication in the Elsevier journal Food Quality and Preference, the researchers set out to investigate what attracts consumers’ attention to food labels.
They used the visual search paradigm to test a number of hypotheses on a group of 24 participants, all of whom had normal or corrected-to-normal vision and full colour vision.
The hypotheses were:
Faster performance when a label is present than absent.
- Faster performance when two labels are present rather than one label.
- Attention is captured better when the display size of the label is larger.
- Attention is captured faster for monochromatic than for polychromatic labels.
- Attention is captured faster when the same label is repeated in consecutive
- Attention is captured faster when the label appears in the same location as
- in the previous exposure.
The participants first, they had to detect whether a logo indicating nutritional value was present (either the Choices logo or guidance daily amounts in colour form or monochrome).
Next, they had to detect whether two logos were present, positioned next to each other.
The participants had to respond as quickly as they could by pressing one of two buttons. They were paid a small fee of €6 for taking part, plus 10 cents for every percentage point above 90 per cent correct responses.
The researchers reported: “Attention capture was faster and more accurate when the label was present rather than absent, with doubled rather than standard display size, and with mono- rather than polychromatic colouring.”
They found performance was better when the label type and location did not change, suggesting that nutrition logos should be printed in a consistent location on the package.
“The results confirm our hypotheses that display size, colour scheme, familiarity with
the label and its location on the front of the pack are key determinants of consumer attention to labels,” wrote Bialkova and van Trijp. “These findings are crucial to better understanding consumer attention to labels and thus the impact of nutrition information on healthy food choice.”
Food Quality and Preference (published online ahead of print)
“What determines consumer attention to nutrition labels?”
Authors: Svetlana Bialkova, Hans van Trijp