Veggie crisps

A name change enough to alter health perception

Dieters are more drawn to such words in labels as healthy than non-dieters, which would be okay if all labels were super honest, unfortunately a considerable number are misleading and dieters often end up eating the complete opposite – unhealthy foods, according to an article published in The Journal of Consumer Research.

Simply changing the name of a product is enough to alter the perceptions of a food’s healthfulness and taste, and so change its consumption, according to this new research.

The study, “The Impact of Product Name on Dieters’ Non-Dieters’ Food Evaluations and Consumption”, suggests that ‘healthy’ consumers who strive to eat a wholesome and healthy diet may become so focused on trying to eat well that they become more likely to choose unhealthy foods that are labelled as healthy.

“Over time, dieters learn to focus on simply avoiding foods that they recognise as forbidden based on product name,” explained the researchers, led by Caglar Irmak, assistant professor of Marketing at the University of South Carolina.

The name of a food can provide consumers with important information about its nutritional value “for instance, an item identified as an apple is clearly a nutritious snack, while a cupcake is not,” said the researchers.

However, Irmak and his colleagues noted that things are not often this simple, as naming ambiguity is ‘prevalent’ in the food industry:

“Potato chips are labelled ‘veggie chips,’ milkshakes are sold as ‘smoothies,’ and sugary drinks have been re-positioned as ‘flavoured water,’ […] the names of the latter item in each pair might lead a consumer to infer undue nutritional superiority,” they said.

Such ambiguity in the naming of products may lead consumers to draw inferences regarding an items nutritional value that override product information, added Irmak and his team.

The new study investigated the influence of altering the name of a food item on consumers’ perceptions of healthfulness, taste, and consumption…… Read more Read more

Journal of Consumer Research: article