Healthy Through Presence or Absence, Nature or Science? A Framework for Understanding Front-of-Package Food Claims
58 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2018
Date Written: August 14, 2018
Food products claim to be healthy in many ways, but prior research has either investigated these claims at the macro level (using broad descriptions such as “healthy” or “tasty”) or at the micro level (using single claims like “low fat”). Our meso-level framework examines 1) whether these claims invoke natural or scientific arguments and 2) whether they communicate about positive attributes present in the food or negative attributes absent from the food. We find that common front-of-packaging (FOP) claims can be appropriately classified into (1) science and absence-focused claims about “removing negatives”; (2) science and presence-focused claims about “adding positives”; (3) nature and absence-focused claims about “not adding negatives”; and (4) nature and presence-focused claims about “not removing positives.” We conduct validation studies using breakfast cereals, a category for which nutrition quality varies but food claims are constant. We find that claim type is completely uncorrelated to actual nutrition quality and yet influences inferences consumers make about taste, healthiness, and dieting. Claim type also helps predict the effects of hedonic eating, healthy eating, or weight loss goals on food choice.
Keywords: food, marketing, labeling, health, naturalness, packaging, front-of-package claims
JEL Classification: I12, I18, M31, M37, M39, Q18, L66
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