The study by researchers from the University of Milan sought to explore the role of health-orientation on consumers’ use of different labelled information, so as to distinguish between mandatory (nutrition facts panel) and voluntary (nutrition and health claims) information. Using face-to-face interviews, data was collected from a sample of 300 consumers.
The researchers found that consumers who place a higher importance on health and consuming healthy products were more likely to base their purchasing decisions on the nutrition facts panel, whereas for consumers who are not as health-conscious looked at front-of-pack claims instead. These results also portrayed the role that nutrition knowledge and education plays in the usage of information by consumers, confirming previous findings of the relationship between socioeconomic status and consumers’ use of labelled information.
On plausible explanations why front-of-pack claims preside in importance for the less health-conscious, the researchers suggested that these consumers, often coming from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, would need to take more time and effort to read the nutrition facts panel, and understanding it would be difficult; it would therefore be less appealing than the simple, concise front-of-pack health claims.
However, the researchers also warned that it is precisely this that increases the potential for these claims to mislead consumers into believing that they are eating a healthy diet by default. For example, the claim “low fat” might cause these consumers to believe that the product is healthier, and therefore end up consuming more. Food manufacturers need therefore give care to the health claims they put on packs, and the study findings strongly suggests that more needs to be done to increase these consumers’ scarce nutrition knowledge.