The independent and combined impact of front-of-pack labelling and sensory quality on calorie estimations and portion selection of commercial food products
Authors: Tang, C., McCrickerd, K. and Forde, C.
Journal: Food Quality and Preference
Front-of-Pack (FOP) health and nutrition labels are intended to help consumers make better food choices, but labels that infer a product is ‘healthier’ than it is have been linked to increased consumption. Three studies were set up to assess whether a product’s sensory characteristics counteract label-generated biases in calorie estimation and portion selection across two product categories: soymilk and instant noodles. Participants in Study 1 (n = 116, 21–50 years) evaluated a range of popular FOP labels. Relative to a control, participants were willing to pay more for products with added labels, and estimated “healthier choice” and “reduced sugar/MSG” versions to have fewer calories per portion. Participants also selected larger portions of the “healthier choice” products. Participants in Study 2 (n = 48, 21–50 years) evaluated 10 different soymilks and 10 instant noodles in the absence of any labelling information. Increased taste intensity was linked to higher estimated calorie content, increased liking and larger portion selection. Study 3 (n = 94, 21–50 years) combined these factors to test the impact of “healthier choice” and “reduced” sugar/MSG labeling applied to products varying in sensory intensity. Label-generated beliefs that a product was healthier and contained fewer calories persisted regardless of how the product tasted, while portion decisions were primarily guided by sensory intensity. Although FOP health and nutrient labels can bias consumer judgements, portion selection may be based more on the sensory experience of eating. Findings suggest modifying a product’s sensory intensity could be more influential at shaping portion decisions than labelled health messages.