Consumers think candy bars with green nutrition labels, such as those used by Mars, are healthier than ones with red or white labels containing the same calories, according to new research.
A study published in the journal Health Communication by Jonathon Schuldt said: “Green labels may alter how people perceive the nutritional information conveyed by the label, perhaps leading them to perceive candy - likely seen as a ‘vice’ food under normal circumstances - in a healthier light.”
Schuldt has called on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to carefully consider the color of any proposed uniform front of pack labeling system.
Mars and NCA labeling initiative
The National Confectionery Association (NCA) of the United States recently adopted a voluntary program called “Treat Right” to put calories on the front of packs.
Mondelez International and Hershey have yet to decide whether to carry front of pack nutrition labels, but some confectioners have already been using front of pack labeling.
In 2008, Mars claimed to be the first confectionery company in the US to implement Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) on the front of all of its chocolate, non-chocolate confectionery and other food products.
Its ‘What’s Inside’ labels now cover all confectionery items globally and shows calorie content in green.
Study: The experiments
Schuldt’s study conducted two experiments to assess the impact of color.
The first presented a chocolate bar with a green calorie label above one with a red label, both with 260 calories, and asked participants to rank perceived healthiness.
The second experiment compared green labels to clear/white labels.
In both experiments, participants considered chocolate bars with green labels healthier despite products containing the same calories as those with red or white labels.
“That the color of the calorie label influenced healthfulness perceptions is consistent with psychological research demonstrating that colors carry meaning,” said Schuldt.
Consumers may associate green with “go” especially when hungry, said the study.
Food labeling: Voluntary campaigns
Food labeling has come under the spotlight in the US since First Lady Michelle Obama launched her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity in 2010.
In 2011, the Grocery Manufacturers of America (GMA) and the Food Marketing Institute unveiled a voluntary labeling system “Facts Up Front”, which expresses nutrition facts in white.
The UK has a color-coded voluntary front of pack traffic light system that includes calorie fat, salt and sugar levels. Green indicates a low amount, while red means a high level.
Health Communication (2013)
Does Green Mean Healthy? Nutrition Label Color Affects Perceptions of Healthfulness'
Author: Jonathon P. Schuldt