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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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To what extent has the labelling of food with health or nutritional claims affected consumers perceptions of healthy food.

Introduction

In 2016, there were more than 1.9 billion adults overweight, and of those, more than 650 million were obese (World Health Organization, 2018).

Obesity is a serious issue for the UK, especially in terms of the NHS, with it costing them over 5.1 billion and tens of billions to society every year. (Obesityhealthalliance.org.uk, 2018). It is now the second biggest cause of cancer, following smoking and furthermore is a major cause of Type 2 diabetes, which costs the NHS 9% of their budget annually (Matthews-King, 2018).

With adult obesity levels in England increasing from 15% to 26% since 1993 (Baker, 2018), people are now having to be more health conscious.

The research I shall be conducting is therefore important as health-related issues are becoming a national concern, leading to more health and weight conscious individuals. This is illustrated in a study by the global research firm IRI, which found that one in four shoppers in the UK want to achieve weight loss. Therefore, 72% of shoppers are now buying food with less salt, sugar, fat or calories which they consider to be healthier. (Wells, 2018)

Nutritional claims labelled on food packaging, can discourage people to seek further nutritional information about the product, and therefore leading some consumers to believe that they are a healthier option. However, these claims could be misleading for consumers resulting in them being affected by the “halo effect” (Vanasse, 2016). Through my research, I aim to find out if labelling food with nutritional or health claims has an impact on consumers perceptions of the healthiness of the product.

Preliminary Literature Search

Consumers perceptions are how individuals form opinions about businesses and the products they provide. A definition of consumer perceptions is “The way in which we perceive things is influenced by what we know about them, in other words, what we have learned about them.” (Strydom, 2004).  

Consumers that are exposed to marketing communications stimuli, for example, advertising and packaging of a product and the perceptions that come from these stimuli's often act as triggers and can influence buying behaviour (Strydom, 2004).  

A health claim is any statement about the relationship between food and health, for example relating to the growth or development of the body (Food Safety, 2018). A nutritional claim is a statement that implies it has particular beneficial nutritional properties for example low in saturated fat (Food Safety, 2018).

A study by Bui et al found that when consumers perceive a product as healthy they are less likely to control their consumption compared to one perceived as unhealthy.  Therefore, a product with a nutritional or health claim may be perceived as the healthier option, however, this often leads to overconsumption, thus contradicting the purpose of purchasing a healthier option (Bui, Tangari and Haws, 2017). Consumers can view a food as a healthier option if a nutritional claim is present due to the “halo” effect where the consumer is discouraged to seek further nutritional information, as the claim makes them assume that it is a healthy product (Williams, 2005). The halo effect is when a person makes an initial judgement and then assumes ambiguous information based on concrete information. For example, if a food product is labelled as “low in saturated fat” consumer then assume it is a healthy food option. A study found that people tend to underestimate the caloric value of low-fat foods. (Ebneter, Latner and Nigg, 2013).

A study that took place in the UK found that health and nutritional claims appeared frequently on food and beverage products (Kaur et al., 2015). They also found that those products with these claims have a marginally greater nutritional profile than those that do not have a claim. However, the differences between the products with claims and without were minor which therefore poses the question of whether the claims are clinically relevant and whether the difference is substantial enough to justify the use of the claims (Kaur et al., 2015). An example of this difference is evident with Alpen, their low sugar granola contains 7.2 grams of sugar and 166 calories per 45-gram serving. However, the original version contains 9.5 grams of sugar and 168 calories, proving the minute difference between the nutritional information of foods with or without claims (Alpen, 2018). If this marketing tool of using a claim is effective, “there may be important public health implications to justify the regulation of claims.” (Kaur et al., 2015).

VitaminWater is an example of a company that falsely advertised their products using health claims. They marketed their sugary drinks as a healthy alternative to fizzy drinks not mentioning the 8 teaspoons of sugar that is in each bottle. But instead using the line “vitamins + water = all you need.” This packaging didn't clearly mention that the drink contained 120 calories and 32 grams of sugar, which may of mislead consumers into buying the ‘health drink'. Therefore, VitaminWater now have to include “with sweeteners” on the packaging of their drinks (Gilliland and Gilliland, 2016). Cases such as this have influenced changes in the regulation by the advertising standards authority to prevent consumers been misled by the advertising of a product (Practice, 2018). Subsequently, I want to complete further research into the use of health and nutritional claims on foods and whether it has an impact on consumer purchasing.

The theory of planned behaviour

The theoretical framework that I believe is best related to my research is the theory of planned behaviour. This theory links beliefs and behaviour. It is “the degree to which a person has a favourable or unfavourable evaluation or appraisal of the behaviour in question” (Ajzen, 1991). This model can be used in my research to identify the relationship between consumers and the purchase of foods labelled with nutritional or health claims.

This model can be applied to my research in terms of food with health and nutritional claims and the individual's perception of such food. The first factor that this model considered is attitude, which is how favourable or unfavourable the individual finds the importance of eating healthier foods with health or nutritional claims. Another factor is the subjective norms which would include whether the individual believes that buying these ‘healthier' products would be approved by others. The final factor is perceived behavioural control which considers how successful the individuals believe they are at controlling a healthy lifestyle.

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