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Making quick decisions healthy: simple front-of-pack logo best to help consumers in busy shopping environment

Unilever consumer scientists claim that simple front-of-pack logos will be most effective in helping consumers make the healthy choice in the supermarket.

In the journal Appetite, the scientists report on the efficacy of eight front-of-pack nutrition labels involving 2406 men and women from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. While many measures of consumer friendliness and usage intention were similar for simple and more complex front-of-pack labels, it took the study participants significantly less time to evaluate the simple labels.

Consumers often spend very little time to decide what to buy in a supermarket; the scientists therefore argue that this shorter process time for the simple front-of-pack logos will best facilitate a consumer making the healthy choice in a snap decision.

In this first cross-European quantitative consumer research on front-of-pack labelling, the researchers evaluated a series of front-of-pack nutrition labelling formats on their consumer friendliness (comprehension, liking and perceived credibility), on their ability to differentiate between healthy and less healthy options, and on their impact on intention to change behaviour.

In the first study, the focus was on comprehension, liking and credibility of the labelling formats as well as the impact of the labelling formats on perceived healthiness of the products. 1630 participants from the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands were randomly assigned to three out of the six nutrition labelling formats (Healthier Choice Tick, Multiple traffic light, Wheel of Health, Smileys, Stars, and Health protection factor) and each of these was presented for all three product categories (dairy drinks, ice cream and spreads).

Results showed that on average participants found all nutrition labelling formats easy to understand, reasonably credible and likable. The labelling formats’ credibility was strongly increased through endorsement by national and international health organisations.

Critically, the labelling formats should be able to consistently differentiate healthy and less healthy options across product categories. The Healthier Choice Tick was the most consistent differentiator, whereas the Multiple Traffic Light scored worst.

The second study looked at decision-making and therefore included behavioural intention measures which can predict how likely it is that the consumer will change their product choices. In total, 776 participants from Italy and the United Kingdom were exposed to four different labelling formats (Healthier Choice Tick, Stars, Multiple Choice Tick and Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) scores).

It was found that healthy choices can be made faster with the simpler front-of-pack formats Healthier Choice Tick or Stars than with the more detailed GDA scores. Participants needed almost 10 seconds more to evaluate products with GDA scores.

The scientists therefore recommend to present simple labelling formats front-of-pack and more detailed nutritional information (such as GDAs) on the back of the package. This will allow consumers to make quick decisions, whilst also providing detailed information if desired.

The scientists finished by stating that the availability of health logos is a strong incentive for food companies to make their products healthier. Consistent regional or global front-of-pack labelling formats can thus have a substantial positive impact on public health.

Dr Gerda Feunekes | alfa
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