Health claims on food packaging: a food manufacturer's friend or foe?

Food manufacturers print health and nutrition information on pack in good faith – to help consumers make informed choices about the food they buy; to comply with labelling regulations; and of course to make their product stand-out from the competition.

But have they ever considered that these health claims and nutritional breakdowns might actually turn consumers off? According to a new study published online in the journal Food Quality and Preference, consumers find excessive information on health claims on food packaging off-putting and it has a negative influence on their perception of the sensory characteristics of the products. In other words, if the product seems ‘worthy’, then it is unlikely to deliver on taste.

The research team, from the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology in Spain, specifically investigated consumers’ perceptions of the food packaging of both enriched and reduced calorie biscuits. They were particularly interested in the expectations raised by nutritional and health claims and the nutrition panel, and their influence on the sensory perception of the biscuits.

They found that consumers were particularly influenced by the nutrition claims highlighted – colour and size – front of pack. Too much information was perceived negatively and with distrust. Interestingly, reduced sugar biscuits were expected to score lower on taste and were seen as a specialist product i.e. for people with sugar metabolism problems, rather than a healthier option.

So what’s the take-out for food manufacturers? Since the first contact between consumers and your product is likely to be the packaging and its labelling, be aware of the potential impact of the words on pack. While working within regulatory constraints, it’s key to strike a careful balance between full disclosure of the potential health benefits of your products versus appealing to your consumers’ taste buds. After all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

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