The ‘green halo’? Consumers think eco-labelled foods taste better

By Nathan Gray

- Last updated on GMT

The ‘green halo’? Consumers think eco-labelled foods taste better

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Consumers perceive food and drink products labelled with eco-friendly claims to taste better, according to new research.

The study, published in Food Quality and Preference​, examined some mechanisms and limits of this eco-label effect – finding that consumers believe eco-labelled products taste better irrespective of whether they are organic or not, and may impact willingness to pay (WTP) for products including bottled waters.

Led by Patrik Sörqvist from the University of Gävle in Sweden, the team found that fruit tastes better to consumers when it is labelled as eco-friendly, and that this eco-labelling effect extends to other judgmental dimensions beside taste, including WTP.

“The eco-label effect is a robust phenomenon, but depends on interactions between product type and judgmental dimension,”​ wrote the team.

“The eco-label effect arises for both ‘organic’ and ‘conventional’ exemplars of the same fruit … and appears to be similar in magnitude across products that differ in sweetness, moisture, texture and other characteristics,”​ they added. “Moreover, the effect arises across a wide range of judgmental dimensions, including sensory judgments, nutrition judgments and value-related judgments.”

Research details

Sörqvist and his team performed a series of three experiments to explore the effects and limits of the ‘green halo’ effect.

The first experiment explored whether the eco-label effect arises in both ‘organic’ and ‘conventional’ exemplars of the same fruit, even though they differ in taste – finding that a green halo effect of similar magnitude was found for taste ratings of both conventional and organic bananas.

A second experiment tested whether the eco-label effect also generalised to judgments of benefits for mental abilities and aimed to characterize the health related halo effect in eco-labelled products by using one general dimension (healthiness) and two specific dimensions (vitamins/minerals and calories).

“The main purpose of introducing judgments of benefits for mental abilities was to address whether the eco-label effect also kicks in for judgments that depend more on abstract pre-conceptions and beliefs prior to the experiment (like benefits for mental abilities) than on tangible product characteristics,”​ explained Sörqvist and colleagues.

In this test, the team found that the evaluations of aspects including ‘healthiness’ and ‘calories’ were consistently more positive for the products labeled as ‘eco-friendly’ over the alternative that was labeled as ‘conventional’. 

In the final test, the Swedish team assessed the ‘robustness’ of the eco-label effect using water as the product to be assessed.

“Water was chosen because it contains no calories, has comparably few taste dimensions, and because it should be harder for participants to imagine why there would be tangible differences between eco-labelled and conventional water,”​ they wrote.

“Whilst there was a preference for the so-called “eco-friendly” water for judgments of health, willingness to pay and mental performance, there was no bias in favour of either the “eco-friendly” or the “conventional” alternative for judgments of taste, vitamins/minerals, or calories,”​ reported the authors.

Source: Food Quality and Preference
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.1016/j.foodqual.2015.02.001
“The green halo: Mechanisms and limits of the eco-label effect”
Authors: Patrik Sörqvist, et al

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1 comment

Nutrition and sustainability

Posted by Emily L.,

Interesting takeaways from this study. However, I do think that people should make careful choices when buying food and know if what they're buying is a sustainable choice. There is this interesting double pyramid model I'd like to share:

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