Negative labelling messages prove positive for packaged food sales

New research from Cornell University has found that consumers are increasingly craving more information on packaged foods, especially in regards to potentially harmful ingredients that are not included in the product.

The study titled “Consumer Response to ‘Contains’ and ‘Free of’ Labelling” was published in the Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy journal earlier this month, and has found that consumers respond in a positive way to particular negative messages.

The research consisted of a laboratory study of 351 shoppers which found that consumers are willing to pay a premium price for products that display labels such as; ‘free of’ or ‘free from’ and even more so when the label includes additional ‘negative’ information on the substances or ingredients that the product is free from.

For example a product may state that it is 'free from' artificial dyes, which may compel a consumer to purchase the product. But when the 'free from' statement is combined with information about how artificial dyes may be harmful to one's health, consumer confidence is increased further. 

Harry M. Kaiser, a Cornell professor whose field of study includes product labelling, said that when provided more information about the ‘negative’ ingredients, consumers became more confident about their purchase decision and the overall value of the product.

“What did surprise us was the effect of supplementary information,” said Kaiser.

“Even seemingly negative information was valued over just the label itself.”

Kaiser says that the Cornell study has uncovered some interesting findings that concern both food-processing companies and government policy makers alike.


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