Back to the list
16 Sep 2016

Research: Easy-to-Read Food Labels Increase Intention to Purchase

The battle for healthy food has become a worldwide concern. Public health agencies have invested energy and resources in fighting health risks such as obesity. In this battle, food labels that indicate nutritional facts have come to play a vital role in promoting healthy eating. This latest study highlights that easy-to-read food labels can increase a consumer's intention to purchase - a fact which can have both positive and negative consequences.

This article from Carolina Werle is the subject of the 28th GEM LAB Executive Summaries.

From the article

The pitfall of nutrition facts label fluency : easier-to-process nutrition information enhances purchase intentions for unhealthy food products
Marketing Letters – DOI 10.1007/s11002-015-9397-3
Heli Wang, Shan Zhao, Jinyu He

The majority of research on food labels has focused on the motivational and intellectual understanding of information provided by food labels (i.e. does a consumer recognize that a product is healthy or unhealthy?). However, the authors of this latest study examined the effect of a consumer's processing experience. In other words, does an easy-to-read label affect a consumer's intention to purchase?

To understand this question, the researchers carried out two experiments with a total of 584 participants. The experiments mixed healthy and unhealthy food options as well as easyto- read and difficult-to-read food labels.

Easy-to-read labels sell more

The study demonstrated that consumers were more willing to purchase food products with a nutritional label that was easy to read. The fact a label is easy to process can make the purchasing experience more pleasurable and the product more appealing. The researchers highlight that even with an unhealthy food product such as M&M's or chocolate cake, consumers voiced an increased intention to purchase when shown a food label that was easy to read.

You enjoy a product because it is easy to read?

The authors of the study highlight an interesting finding concerning the anticipated pleasure derived from purchasing a product. Their experiments resulted in a correlation between easy-to-read labels and increased anticipated enjoyment by the consumer. In other words, if a product's food label is easy for you to read, then you are more likely to believe you will enjoy eating it.

The pitfalls of oversimplification

This research underlines an important danger of nutritional labels, and especially, oversimplifying them. Public policy has generally been oriented towards creating food labels that are easy to read. However, this study demonstrates that the oversimplification of food labels may be detrimental in the case of unhealthy products.

The researchers note that this can be of particular importance when considering if food manufacturers must use standardized labels or if they are allowed to create their own labels. When public policy allows an unhealthy product to use its own easy-to-read label, this may in fact favor the unhealthy product over a healthier product with a label that is more difficult to decipher.

Key Points

  • Easy-to-read food labels increase a consumer's intention to purchase
  • Easy-to-read food labels increase a consumer's anticipated enjoyment of a product.
  • Public policy must take into consideration the dangers of oversimplifying food labels
  • These results underline the importance of standardized food labels.