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How healthy messaging for food products impacts purchases

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Healthy messaging may not prompt healthy purchases, according to a new study.

Does healthy messaging for food products sway consumers to make the purchase? A new study says “no,” but suggests those health cues may counteract advertising promoting unhealthy attributes (Appetite. 2022;172:105956).  

More consumers are taking action to be healthy, and they’re looking to foods and beverages to help them achieve their health goals. Whether they’re reaching for better-for-you sweet treats and confections, functional snacks or low-sodium foods and beverages, the demand for convenient, healthful choices is growing. In fact, Statista reported the global health and wellness food market will grow to $1 trillion by 2026—up from $733 billion in 2020.  

Yet, the market for indulgent foods remains strong. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Americans’ bad eating habits amount to $50 billion a year in health care costs. 

For manufacturers and marketers of healthy foods and beverages, messaging is a tool that can be leveraged to share information about a product in a way that speaks to the perceived needs of the consumer, enticing them to buy. A new study, published in Appetite, sought to determine whether such messages are effective.  

The study, conducted in 1,200 Dutch participants, presented competing healthy and pleasure-linked, or hedonic, cues through advertising banners for cooking recipes via a platform designed to mimic an online supermarket. The banners included health-targeted text, such as “healthy” or “low in calories,” or hedonic text, such as "just delightful" or "heavenly enjoyment." The text was paired with related imagery, such as a quinoa salad to accompany healthy messaging or a dessert to accompany indulgent messaging.  

Participants were asked to select one product out of six options (three healthy and three unhealthy) through the supermarket platform. Each participant made a total of 18 choices. 

The results showed health cues did not affect healthy food choices. However, exposure to only one pleasure-linked message reduced healthy choices by 3%. This effect completely disappeared when both cues were presented at the same time, indicating healthy messaging could counteract unhealthy messages.  

Gender, hunger status, level of dietary restraint and BMI did not influence the effects of the messages, the study showed. 

“These findings cast doubt over the effectiveness of health goal primes as a tool to increase healthy food choices but suggest a protective effect against competing hedonic primes and could thereby prevent less healthy choices,” the study authors wrote.  

TAGS: Ingredients
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