Health claims may damage perception of naturalness — study

Making a health claim on a product could lead to consumers thinking it is less natural, reports

Using a 30 minute questionnaire the researchers asked 4612 respondents from Nordic countries to read four product descriptions on three different food products (yoghurt, bread and meat). Three of these carried a specific claim, but one had no claim.

The respondents were then asked to rate the product on eight criteria: attractive to me; attractive to my family; healthy; natural; tasty; and ability to lower the risk of cardio-vascular diseases, dementia and weight gain.

When the team analysed the results, they found little evidence of the ‘healthy halo’ idea — ie a product’s health attributes casting a positive glow on other attributes, such as taste.In fact in some areas the health claim led to an opposite effect in which other attributes were weakened. The researchers say that naturalness was the most frequent casualty of a health claim, with perception of tastiness damaged too.

The scientists concluded: “The phrasing of the claim and the promised outcome in the claim may not be the most central for consumer perception of the product, whereas established connections between the benefit and ingredient in consumers’ minds are highly important”.

* “Impact of health related claims on the perception of other product attributes” by Liisa Lähteenmäki, Piritta Lampila, Klaus Grunert, Yasemin Boztug, Øydis Ueland, Annika Åström and Emilia Martinsdóttir. Food Policy (2010 online ahead of print)