The study’s results come as members of the European Parliament (MEPs) renewed calls for the reassessment of the UK’s traffic light labelling scheme. The MEPs claimed that colour coding had hit sales of certain products.
“Salient labels [such as colour coded-labels] increased the sensitivity to health and decreased the weight on taste, indicating that the integration of health and taste attributes during the choice process is sensitive to how information is displayed,” researchers at the University of Bonn and Ohio State University said.
These labels proved to be more effective in altering consumers’ thought processes to healthier, goal-directed decisions.
In the study, 44 adults were asked how much they liked 100 different foods. Half of these products were more health-oriented, such as rice waffles and natural yoghurt. The other half of these products were less healthy, such as chips, chocolate bars and cookies.
They were subsequently asked to choose from one healthy product and one less healthy product. The products contained a mixture of information-based labels containing grams and percentages and colour-coded ones. Food with colour-coded labels had red representing a high proportion of fats, sugar or salt. Green represented a low proportion, while yellow was somewhere in the middle.
Consumers were guided by their taste when information-based labels were used. But when traffic light labels were used, consumers were more likely to pick healthier products.
The UK might be re-evaluating its food labelling laws once separated from the EU. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a recent Conservative Party conference that leaving the EU “means we are going, once more, to have the freedom to make our own decisions on a whole host of different matters, from how we label our food to the way in which we choose to control immigration.”