The French research found a statistically significant number of consumers reacted positively to on-product, sterol-cholesterol health messaging, but were not interested in information about risk group disclaimers and scientific uncertainties.
“An econometric estimation shows a significant link between the change in willingness to pay and the perception by participants regarding the scientific validity linked to the sterols,” the researchers led by Stéphan Marette found.
Subjects with and without cholesterol problems were asked to choose between plain and sterol-imbued yoghurts after first tasting them blind, and then subsequently learning in stages more about the cholesterol benefits and areas of scientific uncertainty such as absorption effects for vitamin A and E.
Questionnaires revealed knowledge about Danacol, plant sterolsand cholesterol-lowering benefits was low but higher among those with cholesterol issues. For many, the information they read on-pack was their first exposure to the health benefits of the products.
“The relatively ‘short’ revelation of information about cholesterol reduction leads to a statistically significant increase in WTP (willingness to purchase) for all subgroups,” the researchers found.
“Participants not concerned by cholesterol also increase their WTP, which means that, in the absence of any additional information, they feel concerned by the cholesterol problems and are ready to pay for sterols enrichment.”
The researchers added, “This is intriguing since the non-concerned group could be tempted to avoid Danacol, because negative effects on women and children were mentioned in themessage.”
Word of caution
The researchers concluded that claims regimes needed to be carefully considered.
“From a regulatory point of view, this experiment suggests that it is especially imperative for governments to examine not only the medical information about health and benefits but also consumers’ incentives and perceptions of functional food,” they wrote.
“As many consumers are ready to pay for cholesterol lowering products without focusing on scientific uncertainties, the market could be invaded by products with uncertain benefits regarding health or unsubstantiated information compared to scientific knowledge. In other words, the acceptance of heath claims by public authorities or agencies should be stringent for avoiding proliferation of products and claims with weak or dubious health benefits.”
The approved cholesterol-lowering health claim in the European Union states plant stanols and sterols, “have been shown to lower/ reduce blood cholesterol. High cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease”.
‘Food, uncertainty and consumers’ choices: A lab experiment with enriched yoghurts for lowering cholesterol’
Authors: Marette, S., et al