Research available online ahead of publication in the Food Quality and Preference journal found that study participants responded negatively to reduced-fat labelling of chocolate.
However, the study by Norton et al. added that if a chocolate matched the sensory attributes of a full-fat product consumers might actually enjoy if encouraged to purchase the low-fat version.
Method and results
Norton and his team gave around 90 participants two samples of identical full-fat chocolate but with different labels: one marked ‘Milk Chocolate’ and the other ‘Reduced-fat Milk Chocolate’.
They found that the participants had lower expectations of the reduced-fat labelled product.
“The main result of reduced expectations for a reduced-fat chocolate is a concern to those aiming to manufacture such a chocolate, as it suggests that consumers will be less willing to purchase the product,” said the study.
However, the researchers added that if manufacturers could create a product tasting the same as full-fat chocolate, ratings of liking would not be affected.
“This is a positive outcome: if a reduced-fat chocolate can be produced with matched sensory attributes, and consumers can be encouraged to purchase the product, actual liking should not be affected by the knowledge that the product is reduced in fat,” they said.
Manufacturers are currently struggling with ways to produce a high quality low-fat chocolate.
Norton and co-researcher Peter Fryer of The university of Birmingham in the UK are also working on producing a low-fat chocolate with similar taste parameters using cocoa butter emulsions (See HERE)
Cadbury and Unilever have close ties to the University of Birmingham, with some students receiving funding from these two major industry players.
In the present study, Norton et al. also cautioned about the dangers of creating a similarly tasting product.
They said it could create a ‘health halo’ above low-fat offerings and may lead to over-consumption.
“As chocolate is perceived as an indulgence these data suggest that participants may not see the value of reduced-fat chocolate and would eat more of it to compensate for the lack of ‘naughtiness’,” they said.
“The production of reduced-fat chocolate needs to be conducted alongside a careful marketing strategy to promote consumer acceptance and choice, but also to prevent excessive intake,” they concluded.
Food and Quality Preference – In Press
‘The effect of reduced-fat labelling on chocolate expectations’
Authors: J.E. Norton, P.J. Fryer and J.A. Parkinson