Can cultural differences affect consumer understanding of food labels?

By Joyeeta Basu contact

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CLYMBOL ultimately wants to provide an information basis for future research and public policy.
CLYMBOL ultimately wants to provide an information basis for future research and public policy.

Related tags: Nutrition, Research

Country-specific differences could influence consumers’ understanding of nutritional information on food products, researchers have said.  

Authors of a European Union funded project conducted a ten-country online survey to understand how motivated and able European food shoppers were in processing nutritional information on food products, and whether the differences were country-specific or segment-specific.

They said they will now look for any “(in)consistencies between consumer needs and what is in the market​”. The results are expected in mid-2015.

The research

The objectiveof Role of health-related CLaims and sYMBOLs in consumer behaviour​ (CLYMBOL) is to determine how health-related information on food products affects consumer understanding, purchase and consumption behaviours.

To [our] knowledge, this is the most comprehensive study in this field to date, both in terms of the number of countries covered and the scope of research​,” said Dr Sophie Hieke, lead author of the  study.

The four year project to 2016 is using a wide range of research methods including product sampling, cross-country surveys, eye-tracking (what consumers look at and for how long), laboratory and in-store experiments and interviews.

Taking insights obtained from an earlier EU-funded project FLABEL (food labelling to advance better education for life) as a point of departure, the study said its aim is to ultimately provide “a solid information basis for future research and public policy​.”

The project has been divided in to different Work Packages.

Current status of CLYMBOL

The objective of Work Package 1 (WP1) was to look into the history of health-related claim and symbol use across EU member states, their current prevalence on food packaging and in which contexts the claims and symbols appeared.

A total of 2034 products were sampled in the Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom, it said.

Dr Igor Pravst, leader of the first work area said they are currently working on analysing the nutritional composition of the foods that were sampled. “In the last stage, we will compare the criteria for assigning health symbols​,” he said.

The results are expected this summer.

Current status of health claims and symbols

Work Package 2 will examine differences in consumer motivation and ability to process health-related claims and symbols, said the researchers.

Data analysis and reporting for this work area will be finalised by mid-2015, the report added.

Methodological toolbox

The aim of Work Package 3 is to develop a toolbox to measure how health claims and health symbols, in their context, are understood by consumers, and how they affect consumer food purchasing and consumption. For this, researchers will apply a range of scientific research approaches, including in-store and experimental studies in selected supermarkets.

The study added that the toolbox will cover a range of tested and validated methods, explaining how to apply each technique and how to undertake the analysis and interpretation.

This research will be completed by early 2016, said the authors. 

Public policy implications

Work Package 5 will look at the implications of the findings from work packages one to four, said the study.

Analyses will also explore the role of social media “in communicating with the public and assisting consumers in making informed and healthy food choices​”.

This will be done for different stakeholders (consumers, industry, retailers, non-governmental organisations, policy makers and others).

 Communication and stakeholder engagement

The project will also have a separate work area that will focus on the dissemination and communication of CLYMBOL.

“Once the data from WPs 1 to 5 become available, a holistic analysis of the role of health claims and symbols in consumer behaviour will be possible, ultimately providing a solid information basis for future research and public policy​,” it said.

Source: Nutrition Bulletin

Vol 40 Issue 1, doi: 10.1111/nbu.12128​ 

‘The role of health-related claims and health-related symbols in consumer behaviour: Design and conceptual framework of the CLYMBOL project and initial results’

Authors: S. Hieke, et al

Related topics: Research

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