Do Clearer Food Labels Increase Sales?

Research Suggests That Clarity of Labelling is Key to Increased Purchases

Attractive packaging has always been part of the marketing mix for food and drink. But clear, simple labelling could be even more important than we think.

In consumer sales the world over, different suppliers and manufacturers are constantly trying to outdo each other in every way possible, to gain a competitive advantage. The way they package and brand their products is just one such method, and applies to food and drink companies as much as any other industry.

However, recent studies at Grenoble Ecole de Management suggest that when it comes to food labelling, it is not all about gimmicks or aesthetics. The research indicates the clarity of food labels to be one of the most important factors in increasing consumer purchases.

The research

Associate Professor Caroline Werle carried out the research, by conducting two experiments that used a total of 584 participants. She presented them with a wide variety of products, both healthy and unhealthy, and with labels that were either easy or difficult to read.

The results showed a clear tendency for consumers to favour food where the label was easy to read – this was a far larger deciding factor on whether or not they would purchase it than whether it was healthy or unhealthy.

So what did Professor Werle make of these results? She says they demonstrate that simple, easily read food labels trigger a reaction in consumers that prompts them to think they will enjoy the product, and therefore to make a purchase.

This could be because a simple label makes the actual purchasing experience far easier and less stressful, and thereby gives the consumer an overall positive reaction to the product itself.

Implications

The results of the study are certainly an eye-opener to those involved in the marketing and labelling of food and drink products. They give a clear indication as to what people want to see on their food labels in order to prompt a purchase.

However, they also tell us that a clearly presented label, that is easy to read, is likely to make consumers think they will enjoy a product, even if it is unhealthy. The implication here is more sobering – when presented with two similar products, it would appear that a healthy product will put itself at a marketing disadvantage if it has a detailed label that takes more effort to read. Consumers would tend to avoid it in favour of an unhealthy alternative with a simpler label. This is why peel and reveal labels can be so effective.

The research certainly provides food for thought. One potential solution would, of course, be to standardise all food labelling. However, such a step is surely some way in the future and would necessitate a great deal of additional research.

For now, it is a case of watching and waiting to see what if any action is taken on the basis of this study alone.