With consumers facing more and more information on food labels, the decision-making process has become complex. In the Netherlands alone, there are over one hundred officially registered information labels and far from adding value to a product, the consumer may feel increasingly bombarded and sceptical, wrote researchers in a study published in Food Quality and Preference Journal.
The researchers found that hedonic labels, which emphasise a traditional recipe, a new ingredient or improved taste, were more likely to be met with consumer scepticism compared with health labels which are often certified by a third party - although the sheer number of health labels meant consumers still risked feeling misled.
But food label scepticism could be overcome by giving consumers multisensory experience - when consumers could touch and taste the product.
“This suggests that providing consumers with product samples could enhance their multisensory experience and help to overcome their scepticism toward food labels. Our study emphasises the importance of presentation context and exploring the role of food labels in more realistic settings including multisensory experience,” wrote the Dutch researchers from the University of Twente.
“Reducing consumer scepticism toward food labels and gaining more consumer trust in product claims can positively influence product evaluation and purchase behaviour."
Recreating product experiences
A total of 209 male and female consumers aged 18 to 29 participated in the study and were divided into three groups - participants in the visual group were simply shown a picture of a chocolate cookie and apple juice, those in the tactile group were allowed to hold and study the packaging while the taste group received the product package and a sample to try.
These visual, tactile and multisensory presentations were intended to replicate consumers’ experience when seeing adverts for products in which they can see but not touch; when seeing a product in the supermarket where they can see and touch but not taste and after the purchase where they can taste the product.
Participants then answered questions based on the product which evaluated their scepticism towards the different labels, their intent to purchase and product experience.
The researchers also found that in some cases health labels may not work at all. While a hedonic label on a hedonic product – a chocolate cookie – positively influenced the consumer’s response, a health label on a health product – apple juice – did not.
This had clear implications for public health policy, they wrote. "To make public health campaigns more efficient, more research is needed into the relative effects of health and hedonic claims on consumer responses to food products."
Source: Food Quality and Preference
First published online 2 September 2015, doi:10.1016/j.foodqual.2015.08.013
“Overcoming consumer scepticism toward food labels: The role of multisensory experience”