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The Influence of a Factitious Free-From Food Product Label on Consumer Perceptions of Healthfulness

Authors:
  • Simmons University

Abstract

Given the rapid rise of free-from products available in the marketplace (especially gluten-free), more research is needed to understand how these products influence consumer perceptions of healthfulness. To determine whether perceptions of healthfulness can be generated about free-from products in the absence of risk information. A survey was administered to 256 adults. Two picture-based food product questions evaluated which products consumers perceived to be healthier. One free-from designation was fabricated (MUI-free), whereas gluten-free was used as the comparison designation. For each question, participants chose which product they thought was healthier (free-from, conventional, or equally healthy). A χ(2) test was run to assess the difference between responses to picture-based food product questions. Multinomial regression assessed variance in responses attributable to participant demographic characteristics. Among the respondents, 21.9% selected the MUI-free product as healthier, whereas 25.5% selected the gluten-free product as healthier. Frequency data showed that a significant number of participants chose both free-from products as healthier than the conventional products (P<0.001). Regression analysis found that individuals who identified as gluten intolerant or unsure of a gluten intolerance were significantly more likely than other participants to choose the free-from product as healthier compared with choosing "equally healthy" (P=0.040). Hispanics and those with an associate's degree or vocational training were significantly more likely than their referent groups (whites and those with a doctoral degree, respectively) to choose the free-from product as healthier compared with choosing "equally healthy" (P=0.022 and 0.034, respectively). Finally, African Americans were more likely than whites to choose the conventional product as healthier compared with choosing "equally healthy" (P=0.016). Frequency data demonstrated that free-from products can generate perceptions of healthfulness in the absence of risk information. Self-reported intolerance data suggest that individuals with a heightened concern about the risks associated with gluten may perceive the larger category of free-from products as more healthful. In addition, ethnicity and education level appear to play a role in free-from product perception. Copyright © 2015 Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
RESEARCH
Original Research
The Inuence of a Factitious Free-From Food
Product Label on Consumer Perceptions of
Healthfulness
Matthew Priven, MS*; Jennifer Baum, MS*; Edward Vieira, PhD, MBA; Teresa Fung, ScD, RD; Nancie Herbold, EdD, RD, LDN
ARTICLE INFORMATION
Article history:
Submitted 12 June 2014
Accepted 12 March 2015
Available online 9 May 2015
Keywords:
Free-from
Gluten-free
Healthfulness
Consumer perception
Food labeling
2212-2672/Copyright ª2015 by the Academy of
Nutrition and Dietetics.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2015.03.013
*
Matthew Priven and Jennifer Baum request to be
regarded as joint rst authors.
ABSTRACT
Background Given the rapid rise of free-from products available in the marketplace
(especially gluten-free), more research is needed to understand how these products
inuence consumer perceptions of healthfulness.
Objective To determine whether perceptions of healthfulness can be generated about
free-from products in the absence of risk information.
Design A survey was administered to 256 adults. Two picture-based food product
questions evaluated which products consumers perceived to be healthier. One free-from
designation was fabricated (MUI-free), whereas gluten-free was used as the comparison
designation. For each question, participants chose which product they thought was
healthier (free-from, conventional, or equally healthy).
Statistical analyses A
c
2
test was run to assess the difference between responses to
picture-based food product questions. Multinomial regression assessed variance in re-
sponses attributable to participant demographic characteristics.
Results Among the respondents, 21.9% selected the MUI-free product as healthier,
whereas 25.5% selected the gluten-free product as healthier. Frequency data showed
that a signicant number of participants chose both free-from products as healthier
than the conventional products (P<0.001). Regression analysis found that individuals
who identied as gluten intolerant or unsure of a gluten intolerance were signicantly
more likely than other participants to choose the free-from product as healthier
compared with choosing equally healthy(P¼0.040). Hispanics and those with an
associates degree or vocational training were signicantly more likely than their
referent groups (whites and those with a doctoral degree, respectively) to choose the
free-from product as healthier compared with choosing equally healthy(P¼0.022 and
0.034, respectively). Finally, African Americans were more likely than whites to choose
the conventional product as healthier compared with choosing equally healthy
(P¼0.016).
Conclusions Frequency data demonstrated that free-from products can generate per-
ceptions of healthfulness in the absence of risk information. Self-reported intolerance
data suggest that individuals with a heightened concern about the risks associated with
gluten may perceive the larger category of free-from products as more healthful. In
addition, ethnicity and education level appear to play a role in free-from product
perception.
J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015;115:1808-1814.
CONSUMERS TODAY ARE MORE HEALTH CONSCIOUS
than ever before; 64% of American consumers report
that healthfulness inuences their food and bev-
erage purchasing decisions (up from 58% in 2006).
1
As such, a great deal of research has been conducted to un-
cover the factors that drive consumer perceptions of food
healthfulness.
2-4
These factors include, but are not limited
to, consumer demographic characteristics, consumer prod-
uct familiarity, product relevance, perceived risk, and the in-
uence of popular media information. Free-from products,
especially gluten-free, represent a rapidly expanding cate-
gory of food products that are often viewed by consumers
as healthier than their conventional counterparts.
5
However,
the way in which free-from products and their associated
health claims drive and shape consumer perceptions of
healthfulness has yet to be fully explored.
Certain demographic characteristics have been shown
to modify how food products are perceived. A multinational
2004 study that examined food choices in university students
found that women were more likely than men to report
avoiding high-fat food and attached greater importance to
healthy eating in almost all countries.
2
In addition, women
tend to exhibit a higher overall preference for products with
health claims, regardless of how the claim is phrased.
6
It has
1808 JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS ª2015 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
also been found that older individuals are more willing to try
products with health claims.
7
Perceptions of disease threat
appear to increase with age, thus enhancing receptivity to-
ward healthyfood products and supplements.
8
Perceptions of healthfulness are further inuenced by the
degree of familiarity a consumer has with a given product.
For example, the more familiar a consumer is with a health
claim or functional food, the greater the increase in perceived
healthfulness.
3
Closely linked to familiarity is the idea of
personal relevance, which inuences consumer product
perception as well. A 2012 study by Dean and colleagues
4
demonstrated that the more personally relevant consumers
found a product to be, the greater the perceived benet of the
product and the more likely consumers were to purchase it.
The inuence of relevance was observed to be strongest
when health claims promised a targeted risk reduction and
when consumers reported an interest in nutritionally healthy
eating. Central to this issue is the concept of perceived risk,
which has been shown to greatly inuence consumer deci-
sion-making.
9
When consumers perceive that a food product
is associated with adverse health effects, they are more likely
to practice risk-reducing behavior, such as avoidance of the
riskyfood product.
10,11
It is clear that gluten is perceived by many Americans as a
riskyfood product component. A recent survey found that
28% of adults claim to either be cutting downon gluten or
avoiding gluten completely.
12
This number far exceeds the
combined estimated prevalence numbers for celiac disease
(<1% of the American population)
13
and the condition known
as noneceliac gluten sensitivity (ranging from 0.63% to 6% of
the general population).
14
This disparity between the number
of individuals who would ostensibly need to follow a gluten-
free diet and those who choose to may be partially explained
by the information disseminated through the media about
the risks associated with gluten consumption. The New York
Times best-selling book Wheat Belly, for example, captured
the attention of Americans with statements like:
A complex range of diseases results from consumption of
wheat, from celiac diseasethe devastating intestinal
disease that develops from exposure to wheat glutento
an assortment of neurological disorders, diabetes, heart
disease, arthritis, curious rashes, and the paralyzing
delusions of schizophrenia.
15
With popular media representing the primary source of
health information used by consumers,
16
it is clear that a
large percentage of the American population has now been
exposed to this type of messaging about the potential risks of
gluten.
When attempting to understand consumer perceptions
around the healthfulness of free-from products, there is an
area of research that has yet to be explored. In a 2010 study
on consumer perceptions of products with No MSG (mono-
sodium glutamate) labels, the authors suggested that No MSG
labels may actually generate and reinforce beliefs that MSG
is harmful and/or an unsafe ingredient.
17
This is a novel idea
that implies that there may be some intrinsic quality to free-
from labels that inuences consumer perceptions of health-
fulness. If this is true, a new piece of the consumer perception
puzzle would be uncovered. A type of continuous, reinforcing
feedback may be occurring: consumers purchase a product
because of a perceived risk reduction, which stimulates the
market to offer more of these risk-reducingproducts, which
in turn generates a greater perceived risk of the food
component in question. But is it true that these free-from
labels can generate these beliefs on their own, or does risk
information have to exist in order for consumers to perceive
these products as more healthful? It is the aim of this study to
answer this question by determining whether consumer
perceptions of healthfulness can be generated by a factitious
free-from food product label. The inuence of various de-
mographic characteristics on consumer perceptions of free-
from product healthfulness will also be assessed.
METHODS
Participants and Recruitment
The venues for this study were two different grocery stores,
located in the cities of Cambridge and Jamaica Plain, MA.
Participants included a convenience sample of shoppers over
the course of two consecutive weekends (N¼256) in February
and March 2014. Permission was obtained from store man-
agement before survey administration and study design. The
Simmons College Institutional Review Board approved the
study protocol and all participants provided informed con-
sent. Inclusion criteria required participants to be aged 18
years or older and procient in the English language. Survey
responses were excluded if both picture-based food product
questions were not answered.
Survey Instrument
A web-based survey tool was created using the program
Qualtrics (Qualtrics, LLC). The computerized survey was
administered in person to prevent participants from access-
ing third-party information while responding. The survey
consisted of a consent page, two picture-based food product
questions, and seven demographic questions. In each of the
two picture-based food product questions, participants were
shown two pictures of cracker boxes that were identical
except for the presence of a free-from label on one of the
boxes (Figure 1). These two boxes will be referred to as the
free-from productand the conventional producthence-
forth. One of the questions presented a free-from label that
read MUI freeand the other question presented a free-from
label that read gluten free.The MUI designation was
fabricated for the purposes of this study to present a free-
from label whose perception would not be inuenced by
prior risk information. The gluten-free designation was
selected as a comparison category because of the widespread
reach of gluten-related risk information in the media. The
two picture-based food product questions were randomized
both in order and left-right image orientation. Participants
were given the response choices of A is healthier,”“Bis
healthier,or A & B are equally healthy.Demographic
questions collected data on age, sex, education level,
ethnicity, whether or not participants purchase food for a
person younger than age 18 years, and whether or not par-
ticipants are (or think that they are) MUI-intolerant and/or
gluten-intolerant. An institutional review boardeapproved
pilot test was conducted at a Boston, MA, college to judge
the strength of the survey tool (n¼30). Based on participant
feedback and survey results from the pilot test, it was
determined that the survey tool was user-friendly and
comprehensible. In addition, during the exit interview
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November 2015 Volume 115 Number 11 JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS 1809
process that followed the pilot test, the study participants
were able to identify the difference between the product
images (presence/absence of free-from label).
RESULTS
Two hundred fty-six adults aged 18 years and older
participated in this study, met inclusion criteria, and
answered both picture-based food product questions. Table 1
presents the sample characteristics. It should be noted that,
upon completion of the survey, a large number of partici-
pants asked the researchers to dene MUI, indicating an
awareness of the difference between the survey images. No
information about the nature of MUI was disclosed to par-
ticipants at any time. All statistical analyses were performed
using SPSS statistical software, version 22 (2013, SPSS Inc). A
Ztest was run to look for primacy effects in both the MUI-free
and gluten-free questions. No such effects were observed for
either question (P¼0.470 and 0.790, respectively), indicating
that lefteright image orientation and question order did not
signicantly inuence responses. Overall, it was found that
21.9% of respondents selected the MUI-free product as
healthier than the product without a free-from label, whereas
25.5% of respondents selected the gluten-free product as
healthier than the product without a free-from label
(Figure 2). In addition, it was found that 11.6% and 10.1% of
respondents selected the conventional product as healthier
in the MUI-free and gluten-free questions, respectively. The
majority of respondents answered that both products were
equally healthy, at 66.5% and 64.4% in the MUI-free and
gluten-free questions, respectively.
A
c
2
test was run to determine whether or not there was a
signicant difference between how participants responded to
the two picture-based food product questions. It was found
that no signicant difference existed for how participants
responded to both questions across all categories (free-from
product is healthier,”“conventional product is healthier,and
both products are equally healthy)(P¼0.53). Due to this
similarity, responses from both image questions were
collapsed for the remainder of the analysis into three distinct
categories: free-from (now encompassing both gluten and
MUI), conventional, and equally healthy.A second
c
2
was
then run to assess the difference between the frequencies for
the three response categories. It was found that each of the
three categories differed signicantly from one another
(P<0.001) (Figure 3).
Multinomial regression was used to analyze the inuence
of demographic characteristics on the likelihood of selecting
the three outcomes, using equally healthyas the referent
category. The model explained a signicant proportion of the
variance (P¼0.004). In the rst round of multinomial analysis,
which included all demographic variables, the results of the
Nagelkerke pseudo R
2
was 0.251, indicating that the de-
mographic variables explained 25% of participantsresponses.
Results from this analysis showed signicant differences
within the education, ethnicity, and self-reported intolerance
categories. Regression was then run using these three vari-
ables (Table 2). The model once again explained a signicant
proportion of the variance (P¼0.008) and the results of the
pseudo R
2
were 0.179, indicating that education, ethnicity,
and self-reported intolerance explained 18% of participants
responses. Individuals who identied as gluten intolerant
Figure 1. Copy of the two cracker box images shown to participants in a question about the perceived healthfulness of a con-
ventional product compared with a product with a factitious free-from label (MUI-free). Cracker box images for the gluten-free
treatment question were completely identical, except that the gluten-free label was used in place of the MUI-free label. Order
and lefteright image orientation were randomly generated in both questions by the survey software.
RESEARCH
1810 JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS November 2015 Volume 115 Number 11
Figure 2. Frequency of participants selecting the free-from
product (gluten-free or MUI-free) as healthier than the con-
ventional product in a study to determine whether perceptions
of healthfulness can be generated about free-from products in
the absence of risk information. No signicant difference was
observed between how frequently participants selected each
free-from product as healthier compared with the conventional
product (P¼0.53).
Figure 3. Frequency of selecting each option as healthier
during the image-based product questions in a study to
determine whether perceptions of healthfulness can be
generated about free-from products in the absence of risk in-
formation. This gure represents the results after collapsing
responses from the image-based product questions (ie, free-
fromnow representing the selection of gluten-free and MUI-
free products as healthier). *Categories were signicantly
different from one another (Pvalue for all category compari-
sons <0.001). Percentages do not total 100 because of
rounding.
Table 1. Demographic characteristics of adults aged 18
years and older (N¼256) who responded to image-based
survey questions about the healthfulness of actual and
factitious free-from food products
Characteristic n %
Age, mean y 37.7
18-30 97 42
31-50 88 32
51 48 21
No reply 23 9
Sex
Male 88 34
Female 164 64
No reply 4 2
Education
High school or less 25 10
Associates degree or vocational training 19 7
Bachelors degree 96 38
Masters degree 85 33
Doctorate 27 11
No reply 4 2
Ethnicity
African American 27 11
Asian 15 6
Hispanic or Latino 9 4
White 178 70
Other
a
22 9
No reply 5 2
Purchase food for someone younger
than age 18 y?
Yes 40 16
No 212 83
No reply 4 2
Self-reported intolerance
Gluten-intolerant or unsure 69 27
Not gluten-intolerant 185 73
MUI-intolerant or unsure 183 72
Not MUI-intolerant 70 28
a
Includes American, Jewish, Mexican, Middle Eastern, mixed, multiracial, Portuguese-
Hawaiian, two or more races, and white-Hispanic.
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November 2015 Volume 115 Number 11 JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS 1811
and unsure [of a gluten intolerance]were signicantly
more likely than other participants to choose the free-from
product as healthier compared with choosing equally
healthy(P¼0.040). Within the education category, it was
found that individuals with an associates degree or vocational
training were signicantly more likely than those with a
doctorate (referent category) to choose the free-from product
as healthier compared with responding that the products are
equally healthy(P¼0.034). Within ethnicity, it was found
that Hispanics were signicantly more likely than whites
(referent category) to choose the free-from product as healthier
compared with responding that the products are equally
healthy(P¼0.022). Finally, itwas found that African Americans
were signicantly more likely than the same referent category
(whites) to choose the conventional product as healthier
compared with selecting equally healthy(P¼0.016).
DISCUSSION
To our knowledge, this is the rst study exploring consumer
perceptions of free-from foods using an actual and factitious
free-from product. The frequency data suggest that free-from
products can generate perceptions of healthfulness in the
absence of risk information. This is shown through the use of
the factitious free-from product, for which no risk informa-
tion exists that could inuence consumer perceptions of
healthfulness. That both the gluten-free and MUI-free prod-
ucts were equally likely to be selected as the healthier option
may be partially explained by the concept of familiarity.
3
Although the MUI designation was fabricated, free-from
products are well known and widely marketed. Familiarity
with this product category in general, therefore, may play a
role in shaping positive perceptions around all free-from
products. The frequency ndings from this study suggest
that free-from product labels are a powerful method of
communicating with consumers that can be employed by
food product manufacturers to manipulate perceptions of
healthfulness. Consequently, the importance of legislation
focused on transparency and accuracy in the labeling of these
products is paramount.
Of the demographic characteristics observed, the self-
reported intolerance data are of particular interest. A novel
association was observed between self-reported intolerance
and perceptions of free-from products. More specically, in-
dividuals who reported an intolerance to a food component
with existing risk information (gluten) were more likely than
other participants to perceive the larger category of free-from
products as more healthful. This implies that a heightened
concern about the risks associated with gluten can inuence
consumershealthfulness perceptions around all free-from
products.
Table 2. The degree to which ethnicity, education level, and self-reported intolerances inuenced perceptions of healthfulness
of free-from and conventional products in a study to determine whether perceptions of healthfulness can be generated about
free-from products in the absence of risk information
a
Free-From Product Conventional Product
b
standard error Signicance
b
standard error Signicance
Ethnicity
African American e.101.618 0.870 1.316.547 0.016*
Asian 1.146.655 0.080 .918.866 0.289
Hispanic/Latino 1.805.791 0.022*.8231.208 0.495
Other e1.454.852 0.088 e1.0711.093 0.327
White ref
b
Education
High school or less .714.737 0.333 e.3361.026 0.743
Associates degree or vocational training 1.783.842 0.034*.3831.066 0.719
Bachelors degree e.203.635 0.749 e.121.730 0.868
Masters degree e.165.630 0.793 e.483.760 0.526
Doctorate ref
Self-reported intolerance
Gluten
Intolerant or unsure .827.402 0.040*.665.488 0.173
Not intolerant ref
MUI
Intolerant or unsure e.064.401 0.873 .120.503 0.812
Not intolerant ref
a
The selection of equally healthywas used as the outcome reference group.
b
ref¼referent category.
*P<0.05.
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1812 JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS November 2015 Volume 115 Number 11
Multinomial analysis also revealed that survey re-
spondents with an associates degree or vocational training
were signicantly more likely than the referent group to
choose free-from products as healthier. Past research has
found a clear association between education level and health
literacy. Furthermore, a link has been observed between ed-
ucation level and how likely individuals are to correctly un-
derstand nutrition label information.
18,19
With this past
research in mind, individuals with an associates degree or
vocational training may represent a population with a mod-
erate level of health literacy: enough to be aware of wide-
spread health messaging, but without experience in applying
evidence-based nutrition recommendations. Future research,
specically dedicated to exploring this relationship, would be
an important next step in expanding our understanding of
how education level inuences perceptions of free-from
products.
In addition, we found that Hispanic individuals were
signicantly more likely than the referent group to select the
free-from option as healthier. This suggests that certain
ethnic groups may be more strongly inuenced by free-from
product claims. Consistent with these results, past ndings
on ethnicity have also demonstrated lower levels of health
literacy among certain minority groups.
20
Interestingly,
African Americans were signicantly more likely than the re-
ferent group to perceive the conventional product as healthier.
It is possible that these respondents perceived the omitted
food component as being benecial to their health or it may
reect a predisposition to unadulterated food products.
Aspects of our study design can be seen as strengths. The
factitious nature of the MUI ingredient prevented prior
exposure from inuencing consumer perception of the
product in question. This was necessary to investigate the
study hypothesis that free-from products have the potential
to generate a perception of healthfulness on their own.
Gluten-free was selected as a comparison designation due to
its powerful inuence on modern food purchasing.
19
Another
strength of the study was that our survey was presented in
person. Had individuals referenced external sources of in-
formation (like an Internet search) while participating in the
study, a procedural confounder would have been introduced.
Image consistency and randomization for all image-based
food product questions was an additional strength of our
study. The presence or absence of a free-from label was the
only observable difference between product images. Had
images differed from one another in color, layout, or other
design aspects, responses would be subject to bias. In
addition, the randomization of lefteright image orientation
prevented the potential inuence of the primacy effect,
wherein participants may have preferentially selected the
rst image presented in each question set. Question order
randomization was also performed to further prevent
response bias. Our pilot test of the survey tool, done in an
effort to identify any unclear questions and address any
concerns before data collection began, was an additional
study strength. Finally, the representativeness of this sam-
ple was bolstered by the fact that this survey was admin-
istered in multiple cities, thus increasing the studys
external validity.
This research is not without limitations. Although recruited
from two locations, participants represent a convenience
sample of shoppers from the greater Boston area. As such,
this population should not be considered representative of
the general population. This was a highly educated sample,
containing a large percentage of participants with some type
of graduate degree. With respect to ethnicity, the sample was
largely white. A more diverse sample population with respect
to ethnicity and education would have provided more infor-
mation about demographic variability in free-from product
perception. It should also be noted that questions were used
to assess differences between demographic groups, but
within-group differences were not assessed.
Another limitation is that our survey evaluated perceptions
of food healthfulness virtually. As such, results cannot be seen
as a perfect representation of consumer perceptions as they
inuence real-world behaviors like food purchasing. In
addition, healthfulnessof food is only one factor inu-
encing real-world consumer behavior, with research showing
that tasteand pricehave a greater inuence on consumer
purchasing decisions.
1
Finally, participants were not asked to
dene and interpret MUI and gluten and were never
informed of the factitious nature of the MUI designation,
which may have provided some novel qualitative data.
However, there were a variety of reactions to the MUI
designation from participants, such as, Is MUI a chemical?
and I need to read up about MUI now.
There are a variety of avenues for future research that could
be conducted based on the ndings from this study. Further
insight could be gained by exploring the inuence of an
added factitious ingredient to a food product on consumer
perception of healthfulness. In addition, differences in taste
based on free-from designation could be assessed. As
mentioned, future research with a more diverse sample
would help to explain the variance attributed to the different
demographic groups, especially education and ethnicity.
Finally, qualitative research into the emotions that drive the
observed health beliefs around free-from products would
shed light on the etiology of this phenomenon.
CONCLUSIONS
This studys frequency data demonstrate that free-from
products can generate perceptions of healthfulness in the
absence of risk information. Self-reported intolerance data
suggest that individuals with a heightened concern about the
risks associated with gluten may perceive the larger category
of free-from products as more healthful. In addition, de-
mographic characteristicsnamely education level and
ethnicityappear to play an important role in shaping free-
from product perceptions. The unique relationship we
observed between free-from products and healthfulness
perceptions is central to better understanding the rise and
fall of different free-from product trends over time. It is clear
that there are assumptions about healthfulness made by
consumers faced with these products. Understanding these
assumptions can help us to explain the disparity between
consumer perceptions and current scientic research and can
also provide a starting point for evidence-based nutrition
education.
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AUTHOR INFORMATION
M. Priven is a dietetic intern, Brigham and Womens Hospital, Boston, MA. J. Baum is a program nutritionist, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC),
Boston, MA, and a dietetic intern, Brigham and Womens Hospital, Boston, MA. E. Vieira is an associate professor, School of Management, T. Fung
is a professor of nutrition, School of Nursing and Health Sciences, and N. Herbold is a professor of nutrition and chair, Department of Nutrition,
School of Nursing and Health Sciences, all at Simmons College, Boston, MA.
Address correspondence to: Matthew Priven, MS, 11 James St, #4, Brookline, MA 02446. E-mail: mpriven@partners.org
STATEMENT OF POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST
No potential conict of interest was reported by the authors.
FUNDING/SUPPORT
None to report.
RESEARCH
1814 JOURNAL OF THE ACADEMY OF NUTRITION AND DIETETICS November 2015 Volume 115 Number 11
... This begs the question, why do consumers buy food that is free of something? The market for different free-from foods has been the subject of a number of research studies, including on risk perception, quality [15] and health impact [16]. The range of free-from products can be diverse: gluten (wheat)-free, lactose-free, sugar-free, or an area that has recently become the focus of increasing research, palm oil-free products. ...
... Health impact is also an important element in the research, since as Oke et al. [18] have shown, selfish reasons, such as the consumer's own health and well-being, can also underlie ethical food consumption behavior. Nevertheless, free-from products tend to be perceived by consumers as healthier than conventional products [16], so this is another factor that may motivate consumers in the direction of buying and consuming palm oil-free products. ...
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Environmental consciousness, health consciousness, social consciousness—today, all three terms have become buzzwords that influence food consumer behavior and reach many consumers. A number of consumer trends have emerged, which manufacturers have responded to, giving consumers the opportunity to make purchasing decisions that reflect any or all of these three buzzwords. In the context of palm oil, all three of these buzzwords may be associated with a consumer-perceived problem. They may be aware of the social (e.g., child labor), environmental (e.g., burning of rainforests) or potential health impacts communicated by the media. Today, more and more products claim to be palm oil free. Related to this the main question of the research is “why do consumers choose palm oil-free foods?” The results of our model using the theory of planned behavior show that the factor most influencing purchase intention is consumer attitude towards palm oil. The only significant effect on this factor is the environmental impact. Neither the perceived health-, nor the social effect had a significant effect on shaping attitudes among the respondents. A further result of the model is that perceived behavioral control only directly affects actual behavior, but does not influence intention, indicating that although there is a possibility for respondents to purchase palm oil-free products, it was not necessarily a conscious, intentional purchase.
... The consumer, in fact, believes that this "free-from" label is synonymous with healthiness, encouraging the purchase of lactose-free milk. Many studies carried out on "free-form" labels (26,27), have noted that these open up a positive psychological dimension in consumers even in the absence of risk information on the eliminated ingredient. These studies highlight an unconscious psychological mechanism that the "free-from" label generates in consumers: they perceive the removed ingredient as risky just because it has been removed (according to the simplifying mental equation that "if it is removed it is because is dangerous") and the positive emotion given by the avoidance of a possible health risk leads them to a greater willingness to purchase "free-from" products and in particular lactose-free milk. ...
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The consumption of lactose-free products and in particular lactose-free milk is increasing worldwide. Although many studies claim that this dietary trend is mainly determined by the number of lactose intolerant people that is growing, others state that most of them self-report an intolerance that has not been diagnosed by medical tests. However, many researchers reported that the consumption of lactose-free milk may put the consumers' health at risk especially when the subjects are not intolerant. Consequently, understanding this new dietary trend considering its main determinants it is necessary to generate educational and intervention campaigns useful to guide people toward healthier and more adequate eating styles. For these reasons we conducted a narrative mini review to summarize the factors contributing to the consumption of lactose-free milk as an alternative to cow's milk, exploring intrinsic and extrinsic product characteristics, biological and physiological, as well as psychological, situational and socio-cultural factors. This narrative mini-review shows that there are six categories of factors that affect the consumption of lactose-free milk. In particular, the intrinsic aspects linked to the product and the socio-demographic characteristics of the consumer are the most explored. On the contrary, situational and socio-cultural factors are the least studied. Finally, this study argues that there are too few studies that investigates the emotional, identity and social aspects underlying these food choices, suggesting the development of future research that investigate the implicit consumer subjective levers to decipher lactose-free milk consumptions.
... Claims based on the presence of positive attributes convey taste and health more effectively than claims based on absence, while the correlation between unhealthy and tasty attributes is carried by absence-based claims. Research also highlights the superiority of absence-based claims as persuasive messages compared to conventional food attributes, such as "gluten free" or invented messages (Priven et al., 2015) and "free from GMO" or "free from palm oil" (Hartmann et al., 2018), although they lack a comparison with positive frames. Although food products are well studied, there is a gray area in terms of other non-durable household goods, such as personal care, when tackling the influence of framed messages (Hansen et al., 2012). ...
The personal care industry is gradually shifting its promises toward health and environment-based messages, promoting either the addition of beneficial ingredients or processes or the removal of potentially deleterious additives or procedures. However, prior research has failed to encapsulate and organize the plethora of claims and to link consumer concerns, knowledge, and the influence of prosocial norms to attitude and purchase intention. This study examines the impact of absence- and presence-framed claims referring either to health or environmental friendliness on attitude and behavioral intention toward personal care products. It also explores differences in consumer profiles (concerning health, the environment, appearance, peer pressure, or disparate levels of front-of-package literacy). Using a framework based on Ajzen (1985) theory of planned behavior enriched with variables such as personal altruistic and egoistic concerns, claim credibility, and attitude, this study shows the superiority of absence-versus presence-framed claims for health and environment-based messages. Both claims pertaining to the environment and to health generate a positive attitude and are powerful in further converting it into buying intention.
... Indeed, food claims may even mislead consumers (Roe et al., 1999) when they attribute excessive health benefits to a food product or infer the healthiness of a product simply because it contains a health or nutrition claim (e.g., Kaur et al., 2017;Williams, 2005). The impact of claims on perceived healthiness was even found with fictitious claims (i.e., "MUI-free", Priven et al., 2015). Critically, consumers may overlook potentially negative attributes (e.g., high sugar) due to the presence of claims about positive ones (e.g., with calcium, Hastak & Mazis, 2011;Wellard et al., 2015). ...
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Food packaging usually includes multiple cues, including claims about nutrients that may modulate how the consumer perceives (and behaves towards) the product. In the current work, we systematically examined how different types of claims about sugar influenced the perception of food product categories (i.e., yogurts, ice creams, cookies, and breakfast cereals). In two experiments (combined n = 406), participants were asked to evaluate the perceived healthfulness, caloric value, and expected taste of products with (vs. without) sugar-related claims. Specifically, the claims were on the sugar content (“0% sugar”, “sugar-free”, “no added sugars”, “low sugar” - Experiment 1) or on the type of sugars or sweeteners of natural origin (“sucrose”, “cane sugar”, “honey” and “stevia” - Experiment 2). Experiment 1 revealed that all products with sugar-related claims were rated as healthier, less caloric, and less tasty than the regular alternatives. Still, products with the “low sugar” claim were perceived as the least healthy, most caloric, and tastiest. In Experiment 2, we observed that products with “stevia” claim were rated as healthier, less caloric, and less tasty than regular products. In both experiments, the frequency of consumption of products with sugar-related claims was positively associated with the general perception of these products, the influence of nutritional information on consumption decisions, attention to sugar intake, and interest in nutrition. Overall, our results show that sugar-related claims may influence consumer's perceptions about food products, but the direction of that influence depends on the type of claim and evaluative dimension.
... Claims based on the presence of positive attributes convey taste and health more effectively than claims based on absence, while the correlation between unhealthy and tasty attributes is carried by absence-based claims. Research also highlights the superiority of absence-based claims as persuasive messages compared to conventional food attributes, such as "gluten free" or invented messages (Priven et al., 2015) and "free from GMO" or "free from palm oil" (Hartmann et al., 2018), although they lack a comparison with positive frames. Although food products are well studied, there is a gray area in terms of other non-durable household goods, such as personal care, when tackling the influence of framed messages (Hansen et al., 2012). ...
Conference Paper
The personal care industry is gradually shifting its promises toward health and environmental-based messages, promoting either the addition of beneficial ingredients or processes, or the removal of potentially deleterious additives or procedures. However, prior research has failed to encapsulate and organize the plethora of claims and to link consumer concerns, knowledge and influence of prosocial norms to attitude and purchase intention. This research examines the impact of absence and presence-framed claims referring either to health or environmental-friendliness on attitude and behavioral intention toward personal care products. It also explores differences as per consumer profile (concerned with health, the environment, appearance, peer pressure, or with disparate levels of front-of-package literacy). Through a framework based on Ajzen's (1985) Theory of Planned Behavior enriched with internal (personal concerns) and external (claim credibility and attitude) variables, we show the superiority of absence vs. presence-framed claims for both health and environmental-based messages. If claims pertaining to the environment are superior to health ones to generate a favorable attitude, health claims are also powerful in converting positive attitude to buying intention.
... In other papers, female heads of households emerged as less keen to buy free-from-lactose milk (Gulseven & Wohlgenant, 2017). Within the contributing literature, authors identify a positive predisposition to free-from products in cultural minorities (Gulseven & Wohlgenant, 2017), particularly among Hispanics, towards gluten-free products (Christoph et al., 2018;Priven, Baum, Vieira, Fung, & Herbold, 2015), highlighting the role of ethnicity. Moreover, physical indicators of healthy factors (i.e. ...
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Background Gluten- and lactose-free products are registering a sudden rise in the market, particularly among tolerant people, and this leads to consumer confusion and nutritional inadequacies. The number of studies around this trend has steadily increased in the last 10 years, as scholars from different disciplines have tried to rationalize consumers’ behaviours in these foods’ choice. However, the scientific debate appears fragmented and lacks an integrated view. Objectives We conducted a systematic integrative review of consumers’ determinants of gluten-free and lactose-free consumption to frame the state of the art and research gaps. Methods 45 English language articles reporting quantitative empirical studies ranging from 1971 and 2019 were analysed. First we categorized the consumption determinants in six factors applying the model proposed by Koster and Mojet, then we proposed a new integrated conceptualization inspired by Bronfenbrenner’s Transtheoretical Model. Moreover, differences and similarities between tolerant and intolerant consumers will be highlighted. Results Research on intolerant consumers focused more on consumers’ determinants, in terms of awareness, trust, morality, and capability to read nutritional facts (as purchase facilitators); while studies targeting tolerant consumers focused more on objective product characteristics (with price and availability in supermarkets as barriers for consumption). In this target the subjective perspective has been studied only referring to the risk for developing psychological issues in the restrictive diet. Conclusion As information is lacking in the scientific debate, we suggest for future research the integration of consumers’ subjective implicit levers to decipher free-from purchase behaviours.
... It should be mentioned that food manufacturers can use GF labelling also as a marketing tool to attract consumers, but when perceiving such free-from labelled product as healthier, consumers can oversee the possible poorer nutritional composition of these products. A similar problem was highlighted also for other types of attractive claims and marketing strategies, that are used on foods [6,41,42]. It is necessary to encourage celiac patients and those following a GF diet to consume more whole GF foods, such as legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grain GF cereals, for example buckwheat, millet and quinoa, which offer a range of nutritional benefits, in comparison with processed GF foods. ...
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