Online Program

Marketing Healthier Packaged Foods

Monday, November 2, 2015 : 9:10 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.

Christina Roberto, PhD, Social & Behavioral Sciences, Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, MA
Jennifer Harris, PhD, MBA, University of Connecticut, Hartford, CT
Jonathon Schudlt, PhD, Communication, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY
Leslie John, PhD, Harvard Business School, Harvard Business School, Boston, MA

Background: There is growing interest in understanding whether the techniques that marketers use to effectively promote less healthy foods can be used to effectively promote healthier products. The goal of the present study was to investigate how health-related claims (e.g., low fat, no trans fat, organic) on packaged foods influence consumers’ perceptions and purchase intentions.

Methods: In an online study, 1,163 participants judged 17 food products. We independently manipulated two variables: (1) whether the products had the manufacturers’ health claim on their packaging, and (2) whether a calorie label advertised accurate calories-per-serving or reduced calories-per-serving. A control group viewed the same products without any claims or calorie labels. Participants rated product healthfulness, deliciousness, and purchase intent.

Results: The presence of health claims made unhealthy products seem healthier, but did not affect the perceived healthfulness of healthy products. Health-related claims also decreased perceptions of deliciousness, and this effect was slightly stronger for healthy products than for unhealthy products. Overall, health-related claims did not increase purchase likelihood. In contrast, advertising fewer calories increased perceptions of healthfulness, but more so for unhealthy products, and increased purchase intent relative to advertising regular calorie amounts; taste was unaffected.

Discussion: These results suggest that health-related claims on unhealthy products influence consumers to think those products are healthier than may be the case. In contrast, using health-related claims to market healthier products may not make them seem healthier or more attractive, and may even backfire.

Learning Areas:

Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Describe the most effective front-of-package labeling systems. Discuss the role of federal regulation in health claims on packaged foods.

Keyword(s): Obesity, Nutrition

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I designed the study, analyzed data, and wrote the manuscript for this proposal.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.