Consumer research on marketing terms used in food labelling
Thursday 12 January 2006
The Food Standards Agency issued Guidance on the use of eight marketing terms on food labels in 2002 entitled 'Criteria for the use of the terms fresh, pure, natural etc. in food labelling'. The Agency's Strategic Plan 2005-2010 undertakes to assess the impact of this guidance.
In July 2004 the Agency held a stakeholder meeting to discuss the results of a survey the Agency had undertaken in 2003/4 and to identify any necessary improvements in the existing guidance. Following the meeting the Agency decided to commission research to clarify consumer expectation in relation to five terms already covered by the guidance:
- traditional style (advised upon in relation to use of 'style')
- real (advised upon briefly in the section dealing with 'authentic')
and a further eight that were not:
- farmhouse (pâté)
Conclusions were based on both the qualitative and quantitative stages of the research.
Many consumers demonstrated a degree of scepticism concerning the use of marketing terms. A significant proportion indicated a suspicion that all food products are produced by the same manufacturer but just packaged differently. Consumers also demonstrated that while some felt quite strongly that food described by certain terms should not contain preservatives and other additives (quality (45%), homemade (55%), real (51%)) in reality many thought 'these days' it was likely that they did.
Within this research, a number of respondents claimed that they would be more likely to buy food products bearing the relevant terms. These terms were more likely to influence purchase decisions where two similar products were being compared. This was particularly true of products bearing the terms:
In overall terms, however, the research demonstrated that other pieces of information provided on the label are more influential. 31% of people felt that the brand was the most important piece of information when making a purchase decision and a quarter (25%) felt it was the ingredients. Only 6% of people claimed that the product descriptor, such as natural, fresh or pure, was the most important piece of information and only 14% claimed to ever look at this on food packaging.
There were few regional variations evident within the qualitative research, with some minor exceptions:
- within northern locations respondents recalled fresh meat more frequently than those in other regions
- within areas such as Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast, 'traditional' was said to mean 'local', as opposed to 'old-fashioned' (found within the south-east of England)
- groups within northern locations, that were also likely to be less urban, understood the term farmhouse when associated with pâté less easily
All regional differences seen in the qualitative research have been indicated on the relevant charts in the full report. These varied between terms.