François-Décary Gilardeau, Sandra Cohen
In this study, Option consommateurs (OC) analyze how consumers make their choices and react to various types of health claims. To achieve this, first, OC provided an overview of marketing strategies used in the packaging of processed foods aimed at influencing consumers to choose one product over another. OC then conducted focus groups to assess the impact of policies and claims on consumers and identified their information needs.
The food processing industry wants its products to be noticeable from among those of the competition and be perceived as bringing health benefits to consumers and their families. OC has identified no fewer than thirteen types of claims related directly or indirectly to health. The sheer number and frequency of these claims certainly have an influence on consumer behaviour. In addition, OC has further identified about half a dozen marketing strategies used for the same purposes.
The focus groups were conducted in three Canadian cities (Calgary, Toronto and Montreal) on groups with a lower level of education and members of the general public. Regardless of their years of education, all Canadians look for products that have nutritional benefits or are considered to be healthy. They are nevertheless influenced by marketing strategies in spite of being generally aware that the information put forward is intended primarily to promote the product.
The focus groups also confirmed that Canadians have great difficulty in figuring out the nutritional information on packaged products. Some comments reveal a considerable degree of confusion over the Nutritional Facts Table, or an inability to use it properly The Nutrition Facts Table, though appreciated for the accuracy of the information it contains, is not perceived as an effective tool for comparison shopping.
OC calls on consumers to be vigilant about the messages put out by the food industry. For its part, the government should continue its educational efforts aimed at promoting healthy eating, and should develop communication and educational tools aimed at debunking the credibility of exaggerated health claims.
In addition, several actions are needed so consumers can make better health choices. First, the Nutritional Facts Table needs to be revised to make it more user-friendly. Lastly, OC recommends that government require standardized labels to be on the front of food packages so that consumers will be able to find the information they need when comparing products.
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OCA Funded ResearchThis research received funding support through the Office of Consumer Affairs' Contributions Program.
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Source: Consumer Policy Research Database