|dc.description.abstract||Nutrition educators and policy makers are interested in how consumers use nutrition information on food packaging labels, to enable policy makers to improve health awareness, and to affect positive dietary change. In New Zealand two types of explicit health claims are allowed (general level health claims e.g. ‘gives you energy’ and nutrient content claims e.g. ‘high in calcium’) (FSANZ 2008a), and these claims are used by food manufacturers to market their food products. While manufacturers argue that health claims inform consumers’ choices, ambiguous terms may create confusion, particularly if consumers interpret these differently. The last two decades have seen the regulation of explicit health claims on manufactured food products internationally and in New Zealand, with health claims being the focus of extensive research. Literature has demonstrated that consumers use explicit health claims made by manufacturers and see these claims as beneficial. However, manufacturers also use implied health claims to market their food products. This study investigates, in the lives of ten adult New Zealanders, the personal meanings attached to implied health claims and the effects of these implied health claims on food product evaluation and choice.
The study design consisted of two phases. Phase I comprised ten structured interviews that explored consumers’ understandings of natural implied health claims and the effects of the natural claim on the evaluation of a mock cereal product. Phase II comprised three follow up interviews with existing participants that explored participants’ beliefs on both explicit and implied health claims whilst examining manufactured food products. Participant interviews were transcribed verbatim and analysed using grounded theory analysis in order to develop a conceptual framework and uncover emergent themes that could provide insight on the research question.
Descriptive analysis resulted in five descriptive categories that described participants’ understandings of implied health claims and their behaviour when they evaluated a natural implied health claim on a mock cereal product. The descriptive categories were: factors that influence food choice, natural claim interpretation, benefits, evidence and behaviour. The descriptive analysis was followed by a conceptual analysis of phase I and phase II interviews of these ten participants, and resulted in six concepts. These concepts analysed different aspects of participants’ understandings of natural implied health claims, relevant to the research question, and cohered to form the conceptual framework. The six conceptual areas were: conflicting product choice, avoiding interpersonal conflict, information preferences, perceptions of Front of Pack (FoP) information, difficulties with manufacturers’ use of implied claims and managing FoP information. Data analysis through the conceptual framework generated the analytical themes of risk, trust and scepticism.
Participants’ comments suggested that their food choices were dictated by an avoidance of ‘bad’ choices. In product evaluation, several participants recounted a ‘negative logic’ of ‘bad’ nutrients they wished to avoid in a healthy food. Artificial ingredients were avoided because they represented a risk that could not be easily measured. Overall, participants’ comments suggested that artificial additives are an unnecessary risk and displayed a preference for more natural options when given a choice. Participants’ expressed concerns hinged on trust they felt in the information. Individuals described foods that they habitually purchased in terms of their trust in the product content and in the food manufacturer. Participants noted that inconsistencies in product content and product claims affected their ability to trust the information, and led some participants to view FoP information sceptically. In general, participants described a preference for FoP claims to aid product evaluation and food choice, but were also aware that the information was a form of marketing. They evaluated claims with caution, and in context of other personally relevant product information.
Participants described being faced with a myriad of food choices daily. These ten participants expressed various strategies to make food purchase decisions manageable; within these strategies were a number of contradictions. In the present study, several participants’ descriptions of natural implied health claims suggested a ‘halo effect’ as they inferred positive attributes beyond the scope of the claim, while knowledge of this misleading claim led participants to view FoP claims with scepticism. Regulatory body decisions to not define natural implied health claims adds to consumers’ confusion and scepticism of FoP claims and detracts from the ability of credible claims to convey useful product information to the consumer||