12 January - 20 June 2016

Multisensory experience may alter consumer scepticism toward food labels

7 October

A recently published study by the University of Twente in the Netherlands which studied the effect of packaging on consumer experience and the effects upon decision making/scepticism has shown how labels affect our judgement. The premise is that increasing information on labels of food packages and increasing the complexity of consumer decision-making can enhance consumer scepticism toward food label claims and effect buying intent. In the study, performed with a sample group of 209 male and female consumers aged 18-29, the participants were divided into three distinct groups, visual, visual & tactile and multisensory. The visual group were shown a picture of a chocolate cookie and apple juice, the visual & tactile group were allowed to hold and study the packaging and the multisensory group received both the product packaging and were allowed to taste the products. These situations were designed to replicate consumer experience of both seeing adverts for food products and when visiting the supermarket. Participants were randomly assigned to one of the three label conditions and successively assigned to one of the three demonstration conditions. Following their experience the groups were then questioned on their intent to purchase, experience of the product and scepticism towards the label claims. The labels being judged were health (beneficial) and hedonic (pleasurable) label claims of either manufacturer or independent bodies.

The results ultimately suggested that consumers were more sceptical toward the hedonic label than toward the health label claims. However for a hedonic product (e.g. a chocolate cookie), the hedonic label had a more positive effect on consumer responses compared to the health label, possibly as a buyer of a hedonic product would not be of the mind-set of being affected by a health label. The study also suggested that the multisensory group had reduced scepticism and enhanced product evaluation for the hedonic product when compared to the visual and tactile groups.

The research conclusion suggests that multisensory experience of tactile, visual and taste alters consumer scepticism toward food label claims and packaging, as well as product evaluation and consumer choice. The influence of consumer scepticism on product experience, product evaluation and purchase intention varied for different product categories. A health label on a health product did not have the same effect as a hedonic label on a hedonic product for example. One long term contribution of the study is the demonstration that scepticism toward food labels is a crucial factor influencing consumer responses to food products; showing that consumer scepticism negatively influences consumer responses, and label scepticism/trust can be conquered by a multisensory experience.

The study shows that the lack of clear behavioural effects/benefits on health labels can decrease effectiveness of health agencies to promote healthy diets and increase public health awareness with labels on packaging advocating healthier decisions. The study proved its main hypothesis that consumers were more sceptical toward hedonic labels than health labels, and this result is in line with previous study findings, suggesting that food labels approved by an independent third-party are seen by the public as more credible than those provided by manufacturers. A third party endorsement and a multisensory experience theoretically appears the best way to overcome consumer scepticism.

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