17 Jan 12 ‘Fair trade’ chocolate perceived as healthier
For many consumers, the label “fair trade” promotes the inaccurate assumption that a chocolate bar is lower in calories than its competitors, two new US studies have found.
While the savvy are skeptical of overreaching health claims, newly published research suggests an entirely different assertion can lull us into caloric complacency.
It finds socially-conscious consumers are more likely to perceive a chocolate bar as being low in calories if it is labeled “fair trade”.
“Ethical food claims can bias consumers to see poor-nutrition foods in a healthier light,” reports a research team led by psychologist Jonathon Schuldt of California State University, Northridge. The researchers call this an example of the “halo effect”, where one positive attribute leads us to assume the presence of others.
As the researchers point out, the term “fair trade” signals an imported item “was produced in accordance with certain progressive socioeconomic values,” such as paying workers a living wage and not despoiling the local environment. However admirable, these practices have absolutely nothing to do with the product’s nutritional content.
And yet, many of us make that mental link. At least, that’s what Schuldt and his colleagues concluded after performing two experiments, which they describe in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science.
The first featured 56 online participants, all of whom read a one-paragraph description of a fictional brand of chocolate. Half were told it was a “fair-trade” product, one produced by a manufacturer that pays farmers “50 percent more than the standard market price for cocoa, to ensure that the farmers receive a fair wage for their efforts.”
All were asked to estimate whether the chocolates in questions contained more, fewer, or about the same number of calories compared to other brands. “The chocolate was judged as significantly lower-calorie when it was described as fair trade,” the researchers report…..