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The Myth of the Label

How do Front & Back Package Labels Influence Beliefs about Health Claims?

How do Front & Back Package Labels Influence Beliefs about Health Claims?

Marketers can make products more appealing by putting shorter health claims on the front of the package and longer health claims on the back

Consumers should be aware that short health claims on the front can be misleading and should check the back of the package to accurately assess the healthiness of a product

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Wansink, Brian (2003). How Do Front and Back Package Labels Influence Beliefs About Health Claims? Journal of Consumer Affairs, 37(2), 305–316. 2003. doi: 10.1111/j.1745-6606.2003.tb00455.x

Policy–makers and marketers should be all ears to the findings of Dr. Brian Wansink, Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and his colleagues Steven Sonka and Clare Hasler. Wansink et al. cited the benefits of shorter health label claims, which may open the doors for both marketers to increase food sales and for policy–makers to increase consumer education. Marketers will be interested to know that the most effective food labeling design involves placing a short health claim on the front of a package and a longer health claim on the back. That way, disinterested consumers can find what they need at a glance, while more involved consumers can find the information they need upon examining the back of the box.

In Wansink's study, the health claim on the front of a soy burger package was either short–"Soy protein may reduce the risk of heart disease", or long–"25 g of soy protein a day, as a part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease. " In an Illinois grocery store, 118 shoppers evaluated this "new" product, presented with either the long or short health claim. On average, consumers that evaluated the short–labeled product had twice as many specific thoughts (e.g. , "soy helps reduce heart disease"); they processed the label information more thoroughly, and were more persuaded by its content. Those who evaluated the longer–labeled product had 33% more general evaluative thoughts (e.g. , "this looks good"); they were more likely to ignore the informational content because it was too complex.

Shorter claims lead consumers to feel more favorably towards a product, and to perceive it as more healthy. Unfortunately, short claims can also have the power to lead people astray. Because consumers feel that the short claims allow them to understand the product and its benefits more thoroughly, they tend to examine the back panel of food items less carefully. These consumers may fall into the health halo trap, believing the product is healthier than it actually is.

Article Summary by Julia Fisher