Perceptions of food labels have no cultural boundary, says study

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Perception, Packaging

The overall perception of food labels are ‘very similar’ for consumers across cultural divides, with key messages well understood by consumers from countries with different cultural backgrounds.

Researchers from the Universidad de la República (UdelaR) in Uruguay produced five model yoghurt labels and subsequently used them as stimuli in a consumer evaluation survey. Writing in the journal Food Quality and Preference​, they report that the main messages conveyed by the model labels were well received and understood by consumers from different cultural backgrounds, but noted that some cultural differences did exist.

The research team, led by Gastón Ares, said that the results obtained “indicated that the main messages conveyed by the model labels were well understood in Spain and Uruguay. Furthermore, the overall perception of the yogurt labels was very similar in both countries.”


“Consumers usually actively scan packages before purchase and therefore packaging also plays a major role in attracting their attention and largely influence their purchase decisions,” ​said Ares and colleagues.

They added that consumers draw important information about a product and its attributes from package design.

“Furthermore, food packaging creates sensory and hedonic expectations in the consumer … Expectations could be regarded as pre-trial beliefs about a product, affecting decisions both consciously and subconsciously,”​ said the researchers.

“For this reason, in many companies great debates exist on whether a product’s performance in the marketplace is due to its sensory characteristics or to its associated imagery,” ​they added.

Ares and his research team noted that although food companies invest large amounts of money on packaging design and labelling, there very few published studies on consumer perceptions of packaging and labelling.

They said that the idea of their new study was to determine whether consumer expectations and associations were met by simulated yogurt labels – designed with different visual ‘messages’ that are frequently applied in commercial products.

The study also investigated whether there were cultural differences in the perception of the labels, by comparing the results from two Spanish-speaking countries (Spain and Uruguay).

Study details

The researchers explained that the model labels were designed to convey different messages regarding the type of product they represented, and particularly about product characteristics, feelings and emotions.

Consumers were then asked to analyse the model yogurt labels, and their associations and expectations were investigated.

Ares and his co-workers found the main message regarding the type of yogurt each label represented was successfully communicated to consumers.

They reported that consumers correctly associated yoghurt labels with the pre-designed ‘messages’, including messages to convey a natural, homemade or artisanal product, premium products, and products that had health benefits such as boosting gastrointestinal health or aiding weight control.

“It is interesting to notice that … consumers did not associate the flowers with an organic and ecological product in any of the countries, despite the fact that this was one of the messages that … analysis identified for this label in Europe,”​ wrote Ares and his team.

​[The] main messages were understood in a very similar way by consumers in Uruguay and Spain, suggesting agreement in the understanding of the basic symbols used in the evaluated model labels despite cultural differences,”​ they concluded.

Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2011.05.006
“Food labels: Do consumers perceive what semiotics want to convey?”
Authors: G. Ares, B. Piqueras-Fiszman, P. Varela, R.M. Marco, A.M. López, S. Fiszman

Related topics: Science

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