Brands, colours, images and the "bio"-sign. Influences of food label's context factors upon consumers' understanding of health claims and their attitudes towards them

Master's Thesis, 2013

96 Pages, Grade: DE: 1; DK: 12


Table of Contents

1. Introduction
1.1. Background
1.2. Research questions
1.3. Delimitations
1.4. Organisation of the remainder of the study

2. Literature Review
2.1. Main definitions
2.1.1. What is a health claim?.
2.1.2. What is a functional food?
2.1.3. Quality attribute and quality cues Quality attributes. Quality cues Quality attributes versus quality cues
2.1.4. Food package and food label
2.2. Theoretical background..
2.2.1. Conceptual framework on how health claims affect consumers
2.2.2. Total Food Quality Model
2.2.3. Dual processing models
2.3. Previous studies on food label’s context factors
2.3.1. Imagery Studies of general nature... Studies on food as general product category Studies on foods with functional ingredients
2.3.2. Brand. Studies on food as general product category Studies on foods with functional ingredients
2.3.3. Colour Studies of general nature... Studies on food as general product category Studies on foods with functional ingredients
2.3.4. Production process Studies on food as general product category Studies on foods with functional ingredients
2.3.5. Non-label information Studies of general nature... Studies on food as general product category Studies on foods with functional ingredients
2.4. The special issue of consumers’ understanding of health claims

3. Research design
3.1. Conceptual Framework.
3.1.1. Hypotheses
3.2. Research methodology.
3.3. Materials and methods.
3.3.1. Choice of functional ingredient
3.3.2. Choice of carrier product, brand and package colour.
3.3.3. Choice of a health claim
3.3.4. Stimulus material, survey design and procedures.
3.4. Measurement scales
3.4.1. General health interest
3.4.2. Food-related disease.
3.4.3. Attitudes towards functional foods
3.4.4. Credibility of the health claim
3.4.5. Attitudes towards the product
3.4.6. Purchase intentions.
3.4.7. Measurement and quantification of understanding Benchmark. Measurement
3.5. Data analysis.
3.5.1. Mixed-design Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA) General considerations Grand mean centering.
3.5.2. Mixed-design Multinomial Logistic Regression

4. Results
4.1. Sample characteristics
4.2. Reliability and validity of the measurement scales
4.3. Initial data screening
4.4. Split-plot ANCOVA
4.5. Quantifying understanding and Mixe-design Multinomial Regression

5. Discussion

6. Managerial implications

7. Limitations and recommendations for future research


Appendix 1:Tables of means and correlations.

Appendix 2:Translated version of the questionnaire (English).

Appendix 3:Original version of the questionnaire (German).

Appendix 4:Stimulus material..


OBJECTIVE: In times when consumers’ health and healthy eating has become a central priority in the European Commissions’ mission to protect the interests of consumers the European legislation has put a big emphasis on the regulations concerning functional foods in the European market by adopting a list of authorised health claims which have been scientifically proven. There is an increasing number of studies dealing with consumers’ perception of health claims and their understanding all of which have considered different factors influencing consumers’ responses. However none of these studies has considered the possible impact of the food label’s context factors such as brand, colour, image or the ‘bio’ sign. The aim of the present study is to determine whether such factors in combination with other possible influential sources of information which are not part of the food label like mass media influence the level of understanding of health claims and the way consumers perceive them.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: 480 respondents from Germany participated in the study. Margarine spread bearing a health claim of a less popular functional ingredient was presented to the participants who were divided into 16 groups (N=30 per group) and each group was presented with a different version of the product based on the variations in the levels of the chosen food label’s context factor stimuli. Consumers’ attitudes towards the health claim were measured as well as the level of their understanding of the claim. A repeated measures factor was also used by giving the respondents to read a newspaper article explaining the benefits of the functional ingredient after which their attitude and understanding were re-evaluated. The results were analysed using mixed-design Analysis of Covariance (ANCOVA), quantification of the open-ended responses about understanding and a mixed-design Multinomial logistic regression.

RESULTS: The newspaper article proved to be substantially determining factor both with respect to positively influencing consumers’ attitudes and as a risk factor in their understanding of the claim. The presence of ‘bio’ sign on the product’s label together with a darker colour were also found to have a significant positive influence on consumers’ perceived credibility of the health claim. The results also showed that when the bio product was from a famous brand it increased the risk of misunderstanding of the health claim. Additionally, the usage of bright colour and famous brand together as well as bright colour and image in combination were also shown to represent a factor which decreased the probability of misunderstanding.

CONCLUSIONS: The results indicate that at least some of the food label’s context factors might be important determining factors in consumers’ interpretation of the health claim message and the formation of their attitudes towards it. In nowadays information society the potential impact of external to the food labels information channels such as for example newspapers also should be taken into account by the regulators and food manufacturers when trying to gain deeper insights on the way consumers understand and perceive the intended message.

KEYWORDS: Functional foods, health claims, understanding, attitudes, food label, extrinsic cues, brand, bio, colour, image, newspaper article, ANCOVA, Multinomial logistic regression, EFSA, European commission

List of tables

Table 1: Factors and Levels of the manipulated conditions

Table2: Demographic characteristics of the sample

Table 3: Reliability of scales

Table 4: Results of the ANCOVA analysis: between-subject effects

Table 5: Results of the ANCOVA analysis: within-subject effect

Table 6: Determining cut-off values for regions of significance for Healthy eating with respect to colour

Table 7: Regression model* of the interaction between‟ colour‟ and „positive attitudes towards functional foods‟

Table 8: Number of participants per group

Table 9: Answers and their categorisation

Table 10: ‘Safe’ group with respect to reference group ‘risky’

Table 11: ‘ Others’ group with respect to reference group ‘risky’

List of Figures

Figure 1: Organisation of the remainder of the study

Figure 2: Conceptual framework on how health claims affect consumers

Figure 3: The “Total Food Quality Model”

Figure 4: Conceptual framework of the study

Figure 5: Examples of stimulus material used in the study

Figure 6: Questionnaire design

Figure 7: Estimated marginal means for credibility before and after reading the articl.

Figure 8: Relationship between level of colour and levels of healthy eating.

Figure 9: Relationship between level of colour and levels attitude towards functional foods

Figure 10: Relationship between the simple effect of bio and non-bio across levels of colour in the estimated marginal means of credibility of the health claim

Figure 11: Article: Probabilities for falling into „risky‟ vs „safe‟

Figure 12: Article: Probabilities for falling into „risky‟ vs „others‟

Figure 13: Process & brand: Probabilities for falling into „risky‟ vs „safe‟

Figure 14: Process & brand: Probabilities for falling into „risky‟ vs „others‟

Figure 15: Colour & Image: Probabilities for falling into „risky‟ vs „safe‟

Figure 16: Colour & Image: Probabilities for falling into „risky‟ vs „others‟

1. Introduction

1.1. Background

In times when people are being increasingly encouraged to adopt a healthy diet as a significant part of their overall well-being, The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) on behalf of the European Commission has put a special emphasis on the regulations of the so called ‘general function’ health claims in its pursuit to improve EU food safety in order to ensure a high level of consumer protection and to restore and maintain the confidence in the EU food supply.

With the aim to introduce scientifically substantiated general health claims regarding food products the Commission has already adopted a list of 222 approved general function claims for use in the European Union that are supposed to help consumers make well-informed and safe food choices. An essential aspect of the legislative framework behind the adoption of these authorised claims is the statement that “the use of nutrition and health claims shall only be permitted if the average consumer can be expected to understand the beneficial effects expressed in the claim”, as stated in EU regulation 1924/2006.

However, the notion of the ‘average consumer’ is argued by many scientists to be rather vague and unsatisfactory. A further segmentation and specification is required due to the fact that consumers have different psychographic profiles and health status (Nocella & Kennedy 2012). According to these authors, the target should be the ‘intended consumer’ - i.e. the consumers that have the motivation to satisfy specific needs which are promised to be addressed by the health claim benefits. An open question remains if these regulatory attempts by the European Commission to correct imperfect information by introducing a limited list of allowed health claims might not also lead to newly-created consumer biases. Save for ‘intended’ consumers, all the other potential consumers who are exposed to the claim should be protected against being misled. Besides, an unresolved challenge remains what the evidence should be in order to show that the average consumer can be expected to understand a certain health claim (Leathwood 2007). Moreover, even if an efficient benchmark does get developed to show sufficient evidence that consumers are expected to understand the health claim in the new regulatory context, an open question remains what other contexts and circumstances exist under which the average consumer should be expected to understand a certain health claim.

There have been already studies which have explored individual factors specific to every consumer that influence how a certain health claim is interpreted and perceived – i.e. the focus being on the consumers’ background attitudes. For example, according to the results of a research by Grunert et al. (2011) consumers with a ‘very positive attitude to functional foods’ are most susceptible to risky misinterpretations of a given health claim and therefore special attention should be paid to the group of consumers with such a positive attitude when it comes to correct understanding of health claims. This means that instead of a research among the general population, a research that takes into account the peculiarities between different groups (e.g. according to prior needs, motives and attitudes) and is designed to analyse them within other contexts (e.g. other aspects of the food label, health authorities and professionals, public media. etc.) should shed more light on the variety of responses to health claims and the reasons for their occurrence.

In other words, the question is what the factors of the commercial and public context are in which a certain product’s health claim exists and which can influence understanding and the formation of beliefs.

1.2. Research questions

The potential effects of the above-mentioned consumer-related background attitude variables with regard to health claims’ understanding and attitudes towards the health claim are in synergy with another group of variables pertaining to the product itself, as described in the conceptual framework on how health claims affect consumers developed by Wills et al. (2012). In this context not so thoroughly researched is the synergetic effect of other aspects of the product labelling - i.e. the context in which the textual information representing the health claim has been put in according to other informational sources displayed on the label. In comparison to the textual information, such other sources of information are under-regulated by the authorities. Therefore, it would be intriguing to investigate the influences of these other sources of information in combination with the verbally stated health claims. Firstly, as already mentioned these other sources comprise the various other extrinsic cues represented by the different aspects of the labelling itself. All the information aspects and stimuli conveyed by the label are capable of creating confusion by delivering too much information or misleading information (Silayoi & Speece 2007).The attitudes and beliefs stemming from the verbal aspects of the label (including health claims) can be influenced (e.g. intensified or counterbalanced) by the graphical components of the label (Bone & France 2001). In their study, the latter authors show that the graphical components of the package label have the potential to have a significant impact on the consumers’ beliefs and consequentially on their purchase intentions. The results suggest that a further research is worthwhile with regard to whether pictures, colours and other imagery elements might also have the ability to cause biases regarding the understanding of the intended meaning of a health claim and have an impact on the formation of consumers’ attitudes even when there is a higher motivation to process the verbally conveyed information. In general, the graphics of the labelling include the overall layout, the combinations of colours, the typography as well as various photographs and all these aspects create various gestalts1.

Furthermore, other labelling aspects that can determine the context of a product save for the graphical components should also be taken into consideration. In this respect an essential factor is the perceived healthiness of the product that could be influenced by extrinsic cues. More specifically label context factors that could influence the perceived ‘healthiness’ of a food product should be taken into account, especially due to the fact that the healthiness factor has been shown to be one of the consumer’s main motivations in choice of food by the consumer (Bech-Larsen & Grunert 2003).

Familiarity of a certain ingredient plays a significant role in the perceptions and believability of health claims. Therefore products with health claims concerning well-known active ingredients will supposedly have a much better acceptance and will be easier to achieve credence than less popular and less known ingredients (Grunert et al. 2009). These research results confirm the findings of a previous study of Urala et al. (2003) in which it has been shown that once a functional ingredient becomes familiar to the consumer and an association has been established in the consumer’s mind linking the ingredient and the respective health benefit it is said to lead to, then communicating information on the package label that the ingredient is contained in the product has the same beneficial effect as when a health claim is used explaining the effects of the ingredient. All this implies that less familiar for the wide public functional ingredients necessitate special attention as for what the attitudes and understanding of a health claim by the consumers would be when they are presented with a health claim based on such an ingredient. Hence, the first main research question to be explored is:

1-st research question:

How do different aspects of the food package label affect consumers’ attitudes and understanding of health claims which involve less popular functional ingredients?

Furthermore, due to the insufficient knowledge and comprehension of the health effects of newly authorized and less familiar functional ingredients, it necessitates even more specific information channels and communication activities conveyed to consumers. Different communication channels - i.e. mass media, health professionals, etc. might serve as an external source of information. There is plenty of communication provided via mass media and other more specialised sources of information regarding health benefits of various food ingredients. However these communicational sources are not regulated by the European Commission and this certainly poses concern about the possible consumer reaction and potential misinformation that might arise – i.e. these are channels that have the potential of a possible (counter) influence on consumers. It could be inferred that this special group of consumers with more positive attitudes, although not quite convinced, who are in need of more information (Grunert et al. 2011), have more motivation to process information and are more vulnerable to manipulation of a health claim. The results of another research by Grunert et al. (2009) have also revealed that we can differentiate between two types of consumers – consumers preferring short messages and consumers preferring more detailed information on health claims. This poses the:

2-nd research question:

How does external non-label information communicated influence the attitudes and understanding of health claims?

1.3. Delimitations

The scope of the study is narrowed down to the German market and German consumers. The German market has been chosen due to the author's accessibility. Moreover, the specific product category was margarine spread with the functional ingredient selenium and the target population is limited to users of this product category who are of age. Overall 480 respondents took part in the survey and both genders were represented equally. The study is of quantitative nature and focuses on consumers’ attitudes towards the health claim measured by semantic differential scales and understanding of the health claim measured by open-ended questions to be quantified for the main analysis.

1.4. Organisation of the Remainder of the Study

The study is divided into 7 Chapters. Chapter 1 has already presented the introduction and problem statement as well as the research questions and delimitations of the study. The organisation of the following chapters is summarised in Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Organisation of the remainder of the study

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Chapter 2 presents the theoretical background of the study and the review of related to the study literature as well as clarifying the main definitions and terms. Chapter 3 presents the hypotheses to be checked, the methodology of the study, the methods materials and procedures to gather data and justification and elaboration on the statistical techniques used for the data analysis. Chapter 4 presents the main findings of the analysis and Chapter 5 summarises the results and offers a discussion while Chapter 6 focuses on some managerial implications of the findings. The concluding Chapter 7 points out the limitations of the study and offers recommendations for future research.

2. Literature Review


2.1.1. What is a health claim?

In order the term ‘health claim’ to be defined with regard to food it is necessary to define its separate constituents and how they relate to the food market. According to Codex Alimentarius2 (1979) a claim is “any representation which states, suggests or implies that a food has particular characteristics relating to its origin, nutritional properties, nature, production, processing, composition or any other quality”. According to the European Union legislation Health claim means any claim that states, suggests or implies that a relationship exists between a food category, a food or one of its constituents and health” (European Parliament and Council 2006) . Furthermore, in order to distinguish the health claims from nutritional claims, the European com mission posits that A claim is a health claim if in the naming of the substance or category of substances, there is a description or indication of a functionality or an implied effect on health (European Commission 2007). There are three main subgroups of health claims which are distinguished by the European Commission in its legislation – a) the so-called ‘function claims’, b) claims on reduction of disease risk and c) claims on children’s development and health. In the present study, only ‘function claims’ will be studied as they are the ones subject to a scrutinized procedure of scientific substantiation by the European Union. According to the definitions of the European commission ‘Function’ health claims are claims which refer to (i) “growth, development and functions of the body” (ii) “psychological and behavioural functions” (iii) “slimming or weight control” (European Commission 2007, p12). Functional ingredients are what constitutes functional foods and functional health claims as such. Therefore the concept of ‘function’ claims is closely related to the notion of ‘functional foods’.

2.1.2. What is a functional food?

The term ‘functional food’ was first coined in Japan in the late 1980’s. This is why the only legally defined term of functional foods is in Japan where they are known as ‘food for specific health use’ and they are considered foods composed of functional ingredients that affect the structure and/or function of the body and are used to maintain or regulate specific health conditions (Arai et al. 2003). In other countries there are plenty of definitions of the term and there is none which is widely accepted and agreed upon. Some definitions are as simple as “foods that may provide health benefit beyond basic nutrition” (International Life Sciences Institute cited in Day 2009). According to Goldberg (1994) a functional food is “any food or food ingredient that has positive impact on an individual’s health, physical performance or state of mind in addition to its nutritive value” A widely cited working definition of the Consensus Document on “Scientific Concepts of Functional Foods in Europe” of the European Commission Concerted Action on Functional Food Science in Europe (FUFOSE), Diplock et al. (1999) suggests that a food could be regarded as functional “if it is satisfactorily demonstrated to affect beneficially one or more target functions in the body, beyond adequate nutritional effects”. The latter author also stipulates that the functional food does not represent any form of a dietary supplement and neither is a drug (e.g. a pill or capsule). The third important condition according to the authors is that the functional food is supposed to be consumed “as part of a normal food pattern”. Other authors also emphasize on the importance of the functional food not be a drug and to be part of a normal diet. Lajolo (2002) states that “a food that is a food and not a drug, that is part of a normal diet and that can produce benefits beyond basic nutrition”. In an extensive literature review Doyon & Labrecque (2008) propose the following definition with the aim to conceptually define the boundaries of the term ‘functional food’ in the attempt to make the concept more precise and quantifiable:

A functional food is, or appears similar to, a conventional food. It is part of a standard diet and is consumed on a regular basis, in normal quantities. It has proven health benefits that reduce the risk of specific chronic diseases or beneficially affect target functions beyond its basic nutritional functions

Since the present study is to focus on less popular functional ingredients it is important to emphasise that in spite of the fact that in a certain way every food might be considered functional because it provides basic nutrients for our survival a focal point in the majority of the definitions is that a ‘functional food’ must provide benefits beyond basic nutrition namely by the means of certain functional ingredients.

2.1.3. Quality attributes and quality cues Quality attributes

Nelson (1970) distinguished two main categories of attributes. The first group is search attributes” - quality attributes that could be ascertained before purchase - .e.g. price, appearance, nutritional characteristics, different characteristics pertaining to the packaging like aesthetic attributes, labelling, etc. The second group is “experience attributes” – quality attributes that can be determined after purchase – for example taste, smell, texture, etc. In contrast to these two categories of quality attributes which could be ascertained before or after purchase the proposed by Darby & Karni (1973) “credence attributes” are difficult and costly to judge before purchase and even after the product has been purchased and consumed – e.g. healthiness, safety, sustainability, etc. If we look at the term “health claims” per se as a quality attribute of a product, it is to be classified as a credence attribute – as consumers cannot judge the validity of the health claim neither before, nor right after purchase and consumption in order its value to be estimated additional information must be obtained usually at a very high cost. Therefore marketing products like functional foods which are based on credence characteristics carries a lot of problematical aspects particularly in the challenge to enhance the believability and understanding. This is where the importance of other context factors of the food package label comes into play and is especially interesting to explore. These different context factors are usually conveyed to the consumer through the so called quality cues. Quality cues

A quality cue is “any informational stimulus which is, according to the consumer, related to the product’s quality, and can be ascertained by him/her via the senses before purchase” (Poulson et al., 1996). Quality cues are further divided into intrinsic and extrinsic cues. Intrinsic quality cues are part of the physical product and they cannot be altered without at the same time altering the physical product itself (e.g. form, brightness, shape, etc.), whilst the extrinsic quality cues are still related to the product, but not a physical part of it (e.g. brand, label, packaging, etc.) (Olson & Jacoby 1972; Olson 1977). Quality attributes vs. Quality cues

The distinction between quality cues and quality attributes is subtle and quality cues as a notion resembles the concept of search quality attributes. However Steenkamp & Meulenberg (1986) suggest that whilst by definition the quality cues can be ascertained prior to purchase via the senses, the quality attributes cannot be determined directly in a pre-purchase situation but only by the means of the quality cues. These cues are categorised and integrated by the consumer (Steenkamp 1990) to infer the quality attributes. According to the latter author quality cues represent what is observed by the consumer whereas the quality attributes – what is desired by the consumer. The author emphasises on the relationship between the two concepts and posits that this relation can be viewed as means-end chains. In this sense quality cues are sought after and important for the consumer namely because of them being perceived as means leading to the respective ends which are of a significant value for the consumer – i.e. the quality attributes. Moreover, according to Grunert (2005) viewing quality attributes from a means-end chain perspective makes them an ‘intermediary concept’ – more abstract than quality cues such as colour, shape, pictures (more concrete product attributes), yet less abstract than general life values (terminal values).

Hence, the extrinsic cues that the various aspects of the food package label communicated as mentioned above are to lead to search or credence quality attributes inferences and are generally often used by customers as indicators of quality especially when the product is unfamiliar (which is relevant in our case of less familiar functional ingredients) or when the intrinsic characteristics of the product are very hard to ascertain (Zeithaml 1988). As already stated, functional ingredients are credence attributes of the product which are very hard, time-consuming and costly to ascertain. Therefore, in such a situation of uncertainty it is interesting to determine how the extrinsic quality cues conveyed by the food package label affect consumers’ perceptions and lead to inferences about quality attributes and the credence attributes in particular (i.e. the health claim).

2.1.4. Food package and food label

For the purposes of the present study the following definitions of the official legislation of the European Union will be used as defined in DIRECTIVE 2000/13/EC (European Parliament and The Council, 2000). Labelling is defined as: ‘‘ any words, particulars, trademarks, brand name, pictorial matter or symbol relating to a foodstuff and placed on any packaging, document, notice, label, ring or collar accompanying or referring to such foodstuff.

As far as the package of the food is concerned (i.e. any pre-packaged food), pre-packaged foodstuff is defined as: ‘‘ any single item for presentation as such to the ultimate consumer and to mass caterers, consisting of a foodstuff and the packaging into which it was put before being offered for sale, whether such packaging encloses the foodstuff completely or only partially, but in any case in such a way that the contents cannot be altered without opening or changing the packaging ’’

Packaging is commonly viewed in marketing as part of the product itself and of the brand (Zeithaml 1988). Although the latter author considers packaging both an intrinsic and extrinsic product attribute, the context factors of the labelling on the package relevant to the present study represent an extrinsic quality cue – i.e. related to the product without being part of it.

2.2. Theoretical background

2.2.1. Conceptual Framework on how health claims affect consumers

Wills et al. (2012) have collected and reviewed various studies which deal with how consumers respond to functional foods and their health claims. The conceptual framework (Figure 2) has been derived from the overview of the state-of-the-art research on different areas related to functional foods.

Figure 2: Conceptual framework on how health claims affect consumers (Wills et al 2012)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

The framework shows that health claims understanding, attitudes to the health claim and to the product as well as purchasing intentions and behaviour could be influenced by product and consumer-related independent variables. According to the suggested model the level of consumers’ understanding of a health claim (or the lack of it) might influence their attitude towards the claim, which as a consequence might have an impact on consumers’ attitudes towards the functional food product and eventually these attitudes might affect their purchase intentions and ultimately purchasing behaviour. However, with regard to the product-related dependent variables which might influence consumers’ attitude and purchasing there is a variety of other aspects that might be considered as independent variables which will be tackled further.

2.2.2. Total Food Quality Model

The “Total Food Quality Model” (TFQM) shown in Figure 3 developed by Grunert et al. (1996) relates to this study as far as the utilisation of quality extrinsic cues pertaining to functional foods with regard to expected or inferred quality attributes and dimensions (especially those related to health) and purchase intentions are concerned.

Figure 3: The “Total Food Quality Model” (Grunert et al. 1996)

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Grunert et al. (1996) consider “Health” as one of the four quality dimensions derived from numerous studies and it appears to be universal. Health-related quality has to do with various ways in which a product can positively influence consumers’ health. Thus being a credence attribute the health dimension is closely related to the usage of health claims on functional food products’ labels. In the discussion of quality cues and quality attributes it was already mentioned that the quality cues are viewed as means leading to quality attributes inferences and expectations (i.e. ends). In this sense health claims can be viewed as an extrinsic quality cues related to health as a quality dimension. And health as a quality dimension can be regarded as a characterization of the product based on the product attributes which consumers believe to fulfil their purchase motives (Grunert et al. 2000). Therefore along this chain of means and ends health claims together with the other extrinsic cues are used to infer various product attributes which consequently form quality expectations and influence attitudes towards the product and ultimately purchase intentions and purchase behaviour. The latter consumer dependent variables seem to be related to some extent with one another and if we look at the “Conceptual framework on how health claims affect consumers” model and put it in the broader context of the TFQM model we can conclude that the extrinsic cues represented by the food label (in addition to the other product-related and consumer related independent variables depicted in the model) could potentially have an impact on any of the following consumer-related dependent variables or a combination of them: the interpretation of the health claims, on the attitude towards the health claim, the attitudes towards the product and the purchase intentions. According to Grunert (2000) the health dimension being a credence attribute and the formation of attitudes related to it is a matter of inference processes. This is why the quality cues (such as brand, for example) represent an important factor in their role to convey credible communication to the consumers. Moreover, when credibility and quality inferences are a question of communication, the importance of consumer attitudes towards the product and its quality attributes increases. We can therefore conclude that the context factors of the label a health claim is put in (i.e. the other extrinsic cues) and the (strong) attitudes of consumers towards credence-related product characteristics are in an intricate interrelation with each other along the axes between communicated information and inference processes.

2.2.3. Dual processing models: Elaboration-likelihood model and Heuristic-Systematic processing model

The “Elaboration likelihood model of persuasion ” (ELM) (Petty & Cacioppo, 1983) gives a framework for understanding the influence of involvement and motivation in processing information related to functional ingredients. According to the model the processing of information takes place via a central or a peripheral route. Processing through the central route requires more thoughtful and elaborative consideration of the persuasive communication presented that leads to either positive, negative or no attitude change and usually occurs when a person has a greater motivation with regard to the topic and has the ability to process the information. On the contrary, when the motivation is low the processing of information usually takes the peripheral route which relies on peripheral cues such as images, colours and other informational stimuli that are more easily processed and do not require much of a rational elaboration.

The “Heuristic-systematic model” (Chaiken & Chen 1999) describes two essential modes of information processing via which people form their attitudes. The systematic processing mode is more comprehensive and analytical approach to tackling certain information and the judgments formed as a consequence reflect to a greater extent the actual content of the information. Systematic forms of processing are less likely to occur when there is little knowledge in a specific area of competence. On the other hand, the heuristic-processing mode uses already acquired knowledge structures stored in memory which take the form of the so called “heuristics” rules to make judgments. Heuristic judgments rely on easily processed peripheral cues. For instance, instead of elaborating cognitively on the content message of a health claim on a functional food product by a familiar and respected brand, a consumer may instead choose to simplify his or her judgmental process by inferring that since the brand is famous and successful it could be trusted and the product is healthy. Attitudes based on systematic processing tend to be more permanent, whereas attitudes based on heuristic processing are relatively more unstable. However, both modes of processing can occur simultaneously due to the presumption that people process information to the point they consider as sufficient.

The similarities between the two models come from the fact that both models assume the presence of motivation and ability in order to centrally or systematically process information and both models assume that perceivers tend to process information with minimal efforts (i.e. the peripheral route or the heuristic mode) unless they are motivated and able to do otherwise.

Stemming from the logic of these two dual processing frameworks, it is expected that higher motivation would lead to more elaborative, deeper and systematic processing of the message. However Grunert et al. (2011) show in their study that despite it being somewhat counterintuitive to the logic of the two dual processing models, the respondents with higher motivation expressed by more positive attitude towards functional foods made riskier and more “incorrect” or at least arguable inferences about the meaning of the health claim. In relation to the health claim communicated in the context of the other extrinsic cues of the package and additional non-label information conveyed more peripheral processing could lead to more misunderstandings of the health claim relying on peripheral cues due to lack of motivation or ability to process. On the other hand, central route and systematic mode of processing due to higher motivation or ability to process could lead to a greater number of inferences which at the same time increases the chance to make a risky assumption, regardless of the fact that higher motivation might make one tempted to assume more knowledge about functional ingredients and therefore more correct inferences.

Therefore, within the context of dual-processing models the question arises whether the level of motivation in terms of greater health concerns, more positive attitude towards functional foods and a greater general interest in healthy eating will have a differentiating impact with regard to the effect which the different extrinsic cues have on consumers’ attitudes. Besides, when presented with additional information, for example mass media articles shedding more light on a certain functional ingredient, the respondents with lower motivation are supposedly expected to be more influenced by peripheral cues such as the image of the informational source, the number of arguments (strong or weak), etc. leading to peripheral attitude change or no attitude change at all. For the high involvement group, the decisive are factors such as trustworthiness of the source, the quality of the arguments presented, etc. that might lead to central negative or positive attitude change. Additionally, according to what the heuristic-systematic model hypothesises (the so-called “bias hypothesis”) the heuristic cue information that has influenced the perceivers judgment might establish expectancies about relevant information presented subsequently which might in turn bias the essence of the more effortful systematic processing of this information (Chen et al. 1996). However, the so called “attenuation hypothesis” of the model attitudes derived from the systematic processing might reduce or even neutralise the effect of the impact of the heuristic processing and thus attenuate the impact of the heuristic judgments (Chaiken & Maheswaran 1994)

2.3. Previous studies on food label’s context factors

2.3.1. Imagery Studies of general nature

In an extensive review of the literature on the role of imagery in information processing, MacInnis & Price (1987) conclude that imagery influences positively the so called incidental learning which is learning that occurs without an induced set or intention to learn (McGeoch & Irion 1952). Stokmans (1995) examined in their study the amount and type of product knowledge regarding low-involvement consumer products which users and non-users of the products accumulate according to their recall of various product attributes. Their study showed that consumers who devote very little processing efforts to the communicated information on the product’s label also do accumulate knowledge – i.e. incidental learning of product information. Therefore a lot of consumers’ learning happens passively and unintentionally; within the context of FMCG products such as functional foods and especially when this context is narrowed down to less familiar functional ingredients a substantial part of the learning process is namely incidental. The more consumers process and acquire information regarding a certain product the greater the likelihood that they form attitudes towards it. However consumers do not always have the necessary motivation or ability to process and the extent to which processing and learning occurs influences the attitudes and understanding of the health claim. Smith (1991) showed in her study of 6 print advertisements involving different product categories (including food) that pictures of the product are one of the bases not only for the formation of consumer’s beliefs about attributes that are communicated explicitly in a verbal form to the consumer, but also for inferences about other quality attributes (For example, Ampuero & Villa (2006) discovered that a picture of the product induces associations with ‘guaranteed and upper class products’). It is assumed that no matter the fact that print advertisements were subject to research, the results of the latter study could be also extrapolated to food labelling which often can be a combination of image and verbal claims and arguably they represent their own form of a print advert on the package. The authors emphasise on the fact that public policies should not only stress upon the substantiation of verbal claims with regard to products, but also a close attention should be paid to the substantiation of visual claims (as a standalone communication tool or in combination with verbal claims). In other words a convergence between the meaning of the messages conveyed by the pictorial and verbal information is called forth for public policy’s sake due to the fact that when a discrepancy is observed then the inferences about the various quality attributes of the product will be induced by the more salient pictures rather than the verbal message. Studies on food as a general product category

Bone & France (2001) show in their research that the imagery components on the label can substantially influence product’s quality attribute beliefs and purchase intentions both in cases of higher and lower involvement and motivation. The graphical representations were found more salient a factor than verbal information and hence more likely to be processed before the other labelling aspects. The results of the study show that an increased motivation to process the information presented on the label is not a certain prerequisite for correct and reasonable processing of this information and that the manipulation of the graphical components influence to a great extent the formation of product’s beliefs and purchase intentions.

The results of a study carried out by Underwood & Klein (2002) in attempt to discover the impact of food labelling as an extrinsic cue and more specifically of the product picture revealed that for a lot of brands including a product picture is a very important and crucial instrument in the pursuit to communicate a product’s intrinsic value (such as functional health benefits) and that the images had an impact on consumers’ beliefs about certain product attributes such as brand, taste, etc. – i.e. that pictures serve as informational extrinsic cues related to various aspects of the product. As long as the essence of the food product allows the usage of an attractive product picture, this could serve as an influential factor in attracting consumers’ interest and inducing consideration for the brand (i.e. purchase intentions), especially for less known brands (Underworld et al. 2001). Stoll et al. (2008) carried out a study among German consumers which researched how the brain processes different visual stimuli and more specifically how (un)attractive packages (the distinction based on the different product pictures and colours used) stimulate different areas of the brain. Based on the results of a study, the authors suggest that attractive packages essential building constructs of which are the combination of colours and the kind of product’s picture displayed attract the attention and ensure better recall and have a positive impact on attitudes towards the quality attributes of the product. Studies on foods with functional ingredients

Studies focusing on the impact of imagery on consumers’ attitudes towards functional foods and understanding of health claims are rather scarce. While research results with regard to health claims reveal the stronger effect of graphical communication over text on food labels with regard to health claim understanding as shown by Kapsak et al. (2008), the literature almost lacks studies on the role of products’ pictures and other imagery in relation to attitudes and understanding of health claims. In a research made by Ares et al. (2010b) the results indicated that a product’s picture on the label had an important positive influence on consumers’ attitudes towards the functional product and their purchase intentions both for the high-involvement and low-involvement groups (according to the reported general interest in the product group). However the authors point out the limitation of their research due to the fact that only one kind of functional product has been taken into account for the study necessitating further research involving other functional food products.

2.3.2. Brand Studies on food as a general product category

The influence of the brand, being an extrinsic quality cue, will depend on how much consumers believe it to be a quality indicator. The extent to which consumers believe that an extrinsic cue is indicative of a quality attribute is dependent upon the credibility of this cue which in the case of the brand depends on the history of the brand (Brunsø et al. 2002). For example, the study of Laforet (2011) among British consumers regarding the influences of the brand on consumers’ purchase preferences has shown that the brand that is well established and known in a product category will be preferred to a brand which is not – i.e. in order to serve as an influential extrinsic cue in determining consumers’ choice the brand has to be perceived as a leader in the respective food product category. Brand name communicates information to the consumer. In this relation the study made by Rigaux-Bricmont (1982) has shown that the brand can influence consumers’ attitudes towards the products quality attributes when evaluating consumers’ attitudes towards coffee from different brands. Studies on foods with functional ingredients

Brand (familiarity and image) plays an important role in consumers’ perceptions of a (functional) food product. Among other factors such as label information-related attributes (e.g. quality assurance and nutritional value) brand name attributes are one of the prominent factors in consumers’ evaluations of foods containing health claims and the choice of a particular functional food (Krystallis et al. 2008). According to the latter authors the significance of these factors among which is the brand itself shows that despite the fact that functional foods are regarded as a distinct food category they are still foods and the most important quality dimensions with regard to food in general are as important for functional foods in particular. Stemming from the afore-mentioned statement, brand equity is thought to reduce expected risk prior to purchase (Lassar et al. 1995) this way increasing the level of confidence in the mind of the consumer from a ‘bounded rationality’ perspective – i.e. within the context of lack of enough information, lack of enough time for making the evaluation, etc. – phenomena which are expected to be of a significant impact on the formation of attitudes towards the product and its health claim and purchase intentions when it comes to health claims involving less popular ingredients. In a study carried out by Ares et al. (2010c) the significant impact of the brand was revealed when researching the purchase intentions towards yoghurts containing functional ingredients. It was discovered that consumers that are generally less interested in functional foods and less concerned about their health status were significantly more influenced by the brand in their choice of functional yoghurt and vice versa – consumers that were characterized by greater interested in health and healthy eating demonstrated more willingness to buy functional foods when the brand factor was not present (i.e. less popular brand). In another subsequent research by Ares et al. (2010b) brand was again shown to be an important influential factor in consumer’s attitudes towards functional foods and their willingness to purchase, however this time it was shown that brand affected significantly the consumers who were in the high-involvement group, i.e. the group which had reported higher general interest in the product category.


1 Gestalt: (from German: form or shape) : a structure, configuration, or pattern of physical, biological, or psychological phenomena so integrated as to constitute a functional unit with properties not derivable by summation of its parts (Merriam-Webster dictionary)

2The Codex Alimentarius (or food code) is a joint programme of the FAO (the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation) and the WHO (World Health Organisation), which lays down food health standards that serve as a reference for international trade in foodstuffs. At present, all Member States of the European Union (EU), and, since the end of 2003, the European Community as such are members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission, which is the body in charge of updating the Codex.’ (European Commission 2012a)

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Brands, colours, images and the "bio"-sign. Influences of food label's context factors upon consumers' understanding of health claims and their attitudes towards them
Aarhus School of Business
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Plamen Marchev (Author), 2013, Brands, colours, images and the "bio"-sign. Influences of food label's context factors upon consumers' understanding of health claims and their attitudes towards them, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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