Researchers from the Agrifood Research and Technology Centre of Aragon (CITA) set out to examine how health claims on food products affected consumers’ willingness to purchase (WTP) at different price points.
To test this, the researchers set up a mock supermarket in an unnamed Spanish town representative of Spain’s overall demographics. They recruited 121 demographically diverse subjects, gave them each €10, and asked them to choose between different, real, varieties of breakfast biscuits.
The biscuits were priced between €0.5 and €3.5 per box, with some marked as being “high in fibre”, others having “reduced saturated fat”, and others having no health claims.
Subjects made real choices
Participants chose four times between two biscuit options, with the option not to buy either, and at the end of the experiment randomly selected one of the four choices they had made, which they then had to buy with the €10 – in order to ensure their selections were as genuine as possible.
Overall the researchers found participants were motivated by health claims, with diminishing results as prices rose. But they also split participants into three segments, according to their responses, for more detailed analysis.
“[T]he WTPs for the first segment were of €1.51/box for the ‘high in fibre’ claim and €1.83/box for the ‘reduced saturated fat’ claim. These values indicate that consumers in segment 1 were willing to pay an extra-price of €1.51 for a box of breakfast biscuits with the ‘high in fibre’ claim in relation to a box without this claim,” the researchers wrote in their paper in Nutrients.
For the “reduced saturated fat” biscuits, segment 1 consumers, who made up 36% of the experiment’s subjects were willing to pay an extra €1.83 per box compared to one without a claim.
They found similar results for segment 2, representing 38% of subjects, with WTPs of €2.28/box for “high in fibre” biscuits, and €1.83/box for “reduced saturated fat” biscuits.
Segment 3: ‘Nutritional claim avoiders’
“Finally, segment 3 (25.8% of consumers) differs from the previous ones because the consumers presented negative WTP for both nutritional claims. This result indicated that consumers would pay for a box of breakfast biscuits without claims more than for the box with each of the nutritional claims. Consequently, segment 3 can be named ‘nutritional claim avoiders’,” the authors wrote.
Looking at the makeup of the segments, the researchers found segment 1 contained more women, older people and people with lower incomes, and had the highest proportion of people who were responsible for household food purchases.
Subjects in segment 2 were similar in age to those in segment 1, but had fewer women and people with low incomes. They were also the most likely to eat breakfast biscuits regularly.
“The third segment differs more from the previous ones. It consists of the smallest proportion of women, the youngest consumers, and the largest proportion of consumers with university studies,” wrote the authors.
Avoiders have fewest health problems
“The proportion of consumers who are always the person responsible for the food purchases in the household is the smallest. They give the least importance when shopping to health, natural ingredients, and the calorie/sugar/fat content.
“These consumers showed the least interest in healthy eating because they value the healthy aspects the least and the unhealthy ones the most. Finally, the proportion of consumers without any health problems is the largest among the segments,” they added
The authors also noted they did not find differences in choices between consumers of different weights, but between those who expressed an interest in healthy eating and those who did not.
To solve the problem of “health claim avoiders”, the authors suggested greater educational efforts.
“These activities should focus on male and younger consumers, advising them that, although they do not yet have health problems related to their diet, healthy eating is the best way of preventing them from arising. This could induce changes in the preferences for the nutritional claims, reversing their negative valuation for them,” they suggested.
Published online ahead of print, doi: 10.3390/nu9020132
“Does the Valuation of Nutritional Claims Differ among Consumers? Insights from Spain”
Authors: Jurado, F.; Gracia, A.