Nutri-Score influences purchasing behavior

ISM studies: Consumers choose healthier products - but risk of nutritional greenwashing

09-Apr-2024
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When food is labeled with the so-called Nutri-Score, buyers make different decisions - according to a study conducted by the International School of Management (ISM) under the direction of Prof. Dr. Jens Kai Perret. Even though experts from the food industry are critical of the Nutri-Score's function, respondents are more likely to think about whether a product with a label is healthy before making a purchase decision than one without. Almost a quarter choose the supposedly healthier food based on the Nutri-Score. Age and gender do not play a role here. In Central America, consumer confidence in such food labeling is lower - according to the results of another interview study by the research team.

The New Year's resolutions are still at the back of many consumers' minds. These include the ever-popular resolution to strive for a healthier diet and lifestyle every year. And if you're not worried about that, you'll want to be fit again by summer at the latest when it comes to your figure. Nutrition plays a major role in this.

Politicians have also been working for years to support the population in adopting a healthier lifestyle. For example, the amount of sugar, fat and salt in many convenience products is to be reduced by 2025. To this end, the Nutri-Score was introduced in Germany in 2020, a so-called front-of-package label that uses a five-level color and letter scale to provide an overview of the nutritional value of a product. But what influence does such labeling have on consumer purchasing behaviour?

Nutri-Score helps with nutritional choices

The study led by Prof. Jens Kai Perret clearly shows that the label influences purchasing decisions towards healthier products. In the survey, 296 test subjects were given a questionnaire with a total of 24 questions. They were asked in advance whether they were familiar with the Nutri-Score. Three out of four respondents (73%) stated that they were already familiar with the label and knew what it meant. Result of the survey: The participants obviously attach importance to a healthy diet. They choose the better or healthier product if they have the score rating available (23.6%). Neither gender nor age had a significant influence on the purchase intention in this case.

"The results suggest that the Nutri-Score is able to significantly influence the German population in their eating habits, and external studies show that it is also much better at doing this than comparable front-of-package labels - the simplified nutritional label on the front of packaged foods," summarizes Perret.

Does the Nutri-Score really highlight healthy foods?

In a further interview study with 23 experts from the food industry and consumers from different generations, the actual relevance of the Nutri-Score as a label for healthy food is questioned. Industry experts in particular attribute a signaling effect to the Nutri-Score, but clearly emphasize the wide range of options available to companies to influence it and achieve a good rating. This could turn into a kind of nutritional greenwashing.

Not every product with a good Nutri-Score is automatically healthy. It is worth taking a closer look at the ingredients. Conversely, not every product with an average Nutri-Score is automatically bad.

Nutri-Score - an option for nutrition policy in Central America?

In Western Europe, food labeling using the Nutri-Score is already established, starting in France. But what is the situation on the American continent, especially as many more people suffer from obesity here than in Europe? In Belize, for example, one in three people will soon be obese, according to government figures from 2023.

The ISM researchers used this as the basis for a further qualitative study on the acceptance of the Nutri-Score in Belize - building on the study with German participants. The size of this small country in particular makes it possible to represent a broader section of the population with small samples. Eleven interviews were conducted with participants from various professional groups, which showed that there is a general interest in healthy eating. Ten out of eleven interviewees stated that healthy eating played an important role in their lives, but that unhealthy foods were often easier to access. According to most respondents, a healthy lifestyle with exercise and a healthy diet is important to them, but when it comes to choosing food, they base their decisions on expiry date and price.

The easy-to-read colour scheme on the Nutri-Score label could help people to better recognize the health aspects of food and buy it. However, financial constraints stand in the way of choosing the healthier food - with or without the label. This study is currently being extended to larger countries in Latin America, such as Mexico and Colombia.

In addition, respondents only have a medium level of trust in the label, as the label could make the food look healthier than it actually is. It would therefore be important for consumers to check the nutritional content of the packaging themselves rather than blindly trusting a label.

So is food labeling superfluous?

Study director Prof. Dr. Jens Kai Perret disagrees and emphasizes: "The study in Belize highlights a problem that is also prevalent in Germany and Western Europe: a large proportion of the population believes that they have sufficient knowledge about healthy eating and therefore do not need a label to control their eating habits. However, developments in eating habits clearly contradict this perception."

Note: This article has been translated using a computer system without human intervention. LUMITOS offers these automatic translations to present a wider range of current news. Since this article has been translated with automatic translation, it is possible that it contains errors in vocabulary, syntax or grammar. The original article in German can be found here.

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