A new EU funded project kicked off on Tuesday, aiming to shed light on how consumers interpret health information on food labels, and how this affects their purchasing and consumption behaviour.
CLYMBOL (‘Role of health-related claims and symbols in consumer behaviour’) is a four year research project that will provide insights into consumer understanding and behaviour related to health information. Guidelines will be developed to evaluate the effects of health information on food labels.
The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) notes that health claims are messages on food packages that state, suggest or imply a relationship between a certain food product (or one of its constituents) and health. ‘Vitamin A helps the proper functioning of the immune system’, is an example. Health symbols are awarded to food products which meet certain nutrient requirements and constitute the healthiest option within a product category (e.g. Choices logo, Swedish Keyhole).
“Health claims and symbols are aids to help consumers identify foods that are healthier options, but we know little on how they impact consumer behaviour”, said Prof Dr Klaus G. Grunert, partner in, and scientific advisor to, the CLYMBOL project.
The acceptance of food products with health information is influenced by many different factors. Familiarity with the product, health claim or functional ingredient used plus personal relevance appear as the most important determinants. But what is the actual effect of health information on consumer behaviour regarding food choices?
CLYMBOL aims to understand better the effects of health information on purchase and consumption patterns.
The CLYMBOL team will create a set of methodologies to measure the role of health claims and symbols in consumer behaviour, drawing on the latest developments in cognitive and behavioural science. The range of studies includes pan-European surveys, experiments in actual supermarkets and analysis of population data. By measuring consumers’ eye movements and reaction times, for example, researchers will be able to observe and analyse subconscious behaviour and link this to actual purchases.
CLYMBOL will also develop guidelines directed towards health claims and symbols, taking into account the differences between consumers and EU member states.
The CLYMBOL consortium gathers 14 partners – many of whom are universities - from 9 countries who, according to EUFIC, have proven outstanding expertise in various fields: cognitive consumer psychology, economics, marketing, nutrition and public health.
A retailer is also part of the group, ensuring that the research can be carried out in real-life settings.
CLYMBOL receives research funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme.