In light of the emerging obesity pandemic, front-of-pack calories labels may be an important tool to assist consumers in making informed healthier food choices. However, there is little prior research to guide key decisions on whether caloric content should be expressed in absolute terms or relative to recommended daily intake, whether it should be expressed in per serving or per 100 g and whether the information should be further brought alive for consumers in terms of what the extra calorie intake implies in relation to activity levels. The present study aimed at providing more insight into consumers’ appreciation of front-of-pack labelling of caloric content of food products and their specific preferences for alternative execution formats for such information in Europe.
For this purpose, eight executions of front-of-pack calorie flags were designed and their appeal and information value were extensively discussed with consumers through qualitative research in four different countries (Germany, The Netherlands, France and the UK).
The results show that calories are well-understood and that participants were generally positive about front-of-pack flags, particularly when flags are uniform across products. The most liked flags are the simpler flags depicting only the number of calories per serving or per 100 g, while more complex flags including references to daily needs or exercise and the flag including a phrase referring to balanced lifestyle were least preferred. Some relevant differences between countries were observed. Although participants seem to be familiar with the notion of calories, they do not seem to fully understand how to apply them.
From the results, managerial implications for the design and implementation of front-of-pack calorie labelling as well as important directions for future research are discussed.
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