Examining consumers' perceptions of the health benefits of products with fiber claims.
Modern food production has afforded consumers a tremendous amount of food choices. Recently, given the growing interest consumers have in maintaining healthy lifestyles, many foods promulgating heart-healthy benefits, good digestive health and increased energy levels are winning favor in the marketplace (Nielsen Media 2009). As a result, many foods, including margarines and sugary cereals that were once viewed as unhealthy, are being reformulated and repositioned as healthier alternatives. The industry calls these products "nutraceuticals" or "functional foods," which are foods purported to have health-promoting or disease-preventing properties (Marchione 2009). For example, a number of companies have added fiber to their existing products or launched new products touting fiber. In 2009, 6.5% of new foods included fiber-enriched claims (Horovitz 2009). This is an increase of almost 65% since 2005 (Packaged Facts 2010). Currently, these foods account for more than $27 billion in sales a year and future growth is expected to range from 8.5% to 20% per year (Marchione 2009).
However, as food products have grown in complexity, the call for consumer education has become even more paramount. Critics express concern that consumers may not be fully aware of the content of foods touting fiber and that the increased interest in fiber as a marketing claim is not necessarily a good thing because many companies are using isolated fiber (Wong 2009). Isolated fiber is extracted from food sources or created synthetically and then added to food products that often do not have fiber. With isolated fiber, the fiber is no longer intact. Although there is some evidence that isolated fiber offers health benefits such as increasing regularity, it is not thought to lower blood sugar of cholesterol (Raninen et al. 2011). Further, consumers do not necessarily understand the different types of fiber or the health benefits offered by each type. Moreover, many of these products using isolated fiber may have more sugar, fat and salt added to increase their palatability. There is also concern that demand for these products can be muddled by a halo effect where consumers eat more of a product because they think it is healthy (Wansink and Chandon 2006). Given this concern, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has considered possible criteria that manufacturers might have to adhere to in order to use front-of-package symbols and claims (FDA 2008). Research has examined the effects of the use of nutrient claims on packaging, including low-carbohydrate claims (Kemp et al. 2007), trans-fat claims (Howlett, Burton, and Kozup 2008), pictorial representations of health claims (Viswanathan, Hastak, and Gau 2009), the provision of nutrition information in restaurant settings (Burton, Howlett, and Tangari 2009) as well as consumer knowledge about the health benefits of certain nutrients (Ippolito and Mathios 1991). Although there has been considerable research conducted on nutritional labeling, limited research has examined consumers' perceptions of the health benefits as well as consumption levels for products that bear fiber claims.
Dietary fiber is known to reduce digestive complaints as well as increase satiety without adding calories (Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion 2007). Additionally, dietary fiber contributes to a number of health benefits, including the prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes and obesity (Anderson, Perryman, and Young 2005). There are many classification systems for fiber. One system used by many nutrition and health care professionals considers whether the fiber is soluble or insoluble (Linus Pauling Institute 2009). Soluble fiber is made up of a sticky substance such as gum and gel and dissolves in water. It is found in fruits, vegetables and oats. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and stabilize blood sugar levels. In contrast, insoluble fiber is a coarse material that does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fiber promotes bowel movement and helps remove toxic waste. It can be found in foods such as wheat bran and whole grains (Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion 2007). However, more recent attention has also been given to the viscosity of the fiber. Specifically, some fibers form very "viscous" solutions or gels in water, which is linked to the ability of fibers to slow the emptying of the stomach as well as delay the absorption of some nutrients in the small intestine. Viscous fibers lead to the health benefits of lower cholesterol and stable blood sugar (Linus Pauling Institute 2009).
Increased attention to dietary fiber resulted after the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (the US federal government's nutrition guidelines) recommended that adults consume more fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains (USDA 2005). Americans are encouraged to consume 25-35 g of fiber daily (USDA 2005). Major food manufacturers such as Kellogg's and General Mills have brought considerable attention to the benefits of fiber through the introduction and promotion of their own fiber-rich products (Kellogg Company's Media Room 2005; Pappalardo 1996). High-fiber foods must offer at least 5 g per serving.
Presently, due to the growing interest in foods with fiber, manufacturers are using isolated fibers to make some foods with fiber claims more palatable (Wong 2009). Isolated fibers help reduce the singular taste that may exist in foods rich in fiber; however, isolated fibers may not offer all the same health benefits of naturally occurring fiber. Even though claims and nutrition information on packages have led to increased awareness of the relationship between diet and disease risk, many people fail to engage in thoughtful processing of nutrition information. Instead, they may rely on food manufacturers' promotions and the use of simple heuristics in the form of claims to make decisions about food choices.
Consumer Information Processing
According to the Elaboration Likelihood Model (Petty and Cacioppo 1981), consumers process information through either a central of a peripheral route. Central route processing involves extensive and effortful information processing, whereas peripheral route processing requires less cognitive effort. Individuals employing peripheral route processing may place greater emphasis on easily accessible information or cues (e.g., such as the nutrition package claim). Additionally, these individuals may be guided by previously learned heuristics and neglect engaging in systemic processing (Chaiken, Liberman, and Eagly 1989). With regard to consumer packaged goods, health-related front-of-package claims may serve as a heuristic cue for consumers. These consumers may assign inappropriate health-related benefits to a product based on exposure to the nutrient claim only.
We propose that due to the strong market emphasis on the benefits of dietary fiber, consumers will have more favorable evaluations of products with fiber claims and will rely exclusively on front-of-package fiber claims for their information. We also predict that many consumers are not aware of what types of fiber are most useful for the promotion of health and prevention of disease. First, we conducta pilot study to test our proposition regarding consumers' perceptions of nutrition and the health benefits of products with front-of-package fiber claims.
One hundred and four undergraduate students (52% male and 48% female) were randomly assigned to one of two conditions. In one condition, participants were presented with a picture of the front panel of a cereal box. The cereal was a fictitious brand, "Drakers Cinnamon Jacks" with a nutrition claim that read "Now Provides Fiber" (Figure 1).
In the other condition, participants were presented with the same cereal box but there was no nutrition claim present.
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
After being presented with the front panel of the Drakers Cinnamon Jacks box, subjects were asked to rate the nutrition level of the cereal using the following items on a 7-point scale: "I think the nutrition level of this product is (poor/good)"; "Overall, how would you rate the level of nutrition suggested by the information provided? (not nutritious at all/very nutritious)" and "Based on information provided, how important would this product be as part of a healthy diet? (not important at all/very important)" (Garretson and Burton 2000). Cronbach's [alpha] was .92 for these items. Next, subjects were asked about the perceived cardiovascular risks associated with consuming the target product (Kozup, Burton, and Creyer 2006). Specifically, they were asked to consider if consuming the cereal regularly would increase or decrease their likelihood of having (1) heart disease, (2) a stroke and (3) high blood pressure. These items were measured on a 7-point scale and Cronbach's [alpha] was .81.
Participants were also asked whether consuming the cereal would contribute to certain health benefits often associated with the regular intake of fiber. These benefits were assessed by asking whether eating the cereal would decrease or increase regulatory digestion, levels of energy and swings in blood sugar levels. Finally, individuals indicated whether eating the cereal regularly would decrease/increase their likelihood of weight gain. These items were measured on a 7-point scale. All stimuli and questions were administered via a Web-based survey.
As a manipulation check, participants in each condition were asked at the conclusion of the questionnaire to rate (on a 7-point scale) the level of fiber in the target product. Results indicated that there was a significant main effect for fiber, F(1, 102) = 21.58, p < .01. Those individuals in the condition with the fiber claim perceived the product to have more fiber than those in the condition without the fiber claim (with mean = M), M = 4.33 and M = 3.16, respectively.
Univariate analyses were performed to determine whether there were any differences in participants' perceptions of nutrition levels, cardiovascular disease risk, weight gain and health benefits between the fiber claim versus the no fiber claim condition (Table 1). Results indicated that there were significant differences between participants' perception of nutrition levels between the two conditions, exhibiting a t-test statistic (t) of t (102) = 4.3, p < .01. With higher values indicating higher nutrition levels, those individuals exposed to the cereal with the fiber claim rated the cereal as more nutritious (M = 3.45) than those who saw the cereal without the claim (M = 2.65). There was also a main effect for cardiovascular disease risk, t(102) = 2.34, p < .05. With higher numbers indicating greater likelihood of disease risk, those exposed to the cereal with the fiber claim felt their likelihood of disease risk would be lower (M = 3.58) than those presented the cereal without the fiber claim (M = 4.09). Further, those in the fiber claim condition also believed that their likelihood of weight gain would be lower (M = 3.87) than those who were in the no fiber claim condition, M = 4.86, t(102) = 3.49, p < .01.
Finally, results regarding participants' perceptions of health benefits derived from consuming the target product were assessed. Results indicated that there was a main effect for fiber on perceptions of regulatory digestion, t(102) = 3.55, p < .0l. Individuals in the fiber claim condition felt that the cereal would be better for digestive health (M = 4.3) than those in the no fiber claim condition (M = 3.48). However, results revealed that there were no significant differences in perceived health benefits related to higher levels of energy between the fiber claim and no fiber claim conditions (M = 4.22 and M = 3.95, p > .05). Similarly, there were no significant differences between the fiber and no fiber claim conditions for regulation of blood sugar levels (M = 3.87 and M = 3.35, p > .05).
Findings demonstrate that for a segment of consumers, a product with a fiber claim is viewed as more nutritious than a product without such a claim. Additionally, some consumers may associate fiber with decreased health risks such as weight gain and cardiovascular disease and increased health benefits, including regulatory digestion. This raises the concern as to whether consumers can distinguish between the different types of fiber (soluble vs. insoluble fiber and naturally occurring vs. isolated fiber) since the benefits can vary. Claims on the front of packages typically do not specify type of fiber.
To further test consumer perceptions of nutrition levels for products with fiber claims, a nonstudent adult sample was used in the main study of this research. Participants were presented with a front-of-package claim as well as a nutrition facts panel delineating fiber levels in the target product. Participants' knowledge regarding the different types of fiber was also assessed.
Design and Procedure
A 2 (Claim: Fiber Claim/No Fiber Claim) x 2 (Nutrition Facts Panel: Low Fiber/High Fiber) between subjects experiment was conducted with 154 nonstudent adults in the southwestern part of the United States. Study participants were household shoppers. Forty percent were male and 60% were female. The mean age was forty-one, and the mean household income was $63,077.
Similar to the pilot study, the target product was cereal. The cereal was a fictitious brand, "Drakers Crispy Flakes" (Figure 2). In the fiber claim condition, "With Fiber" appeared on the front of the box. No claim was present on the front of the box in the no claim condition. The nutrition facts panel low in fiber contained 1 g (4% of DV) of fiber and the nutrition facts panel high in fiber had 6 g (24%) of fiber.
After being presented with one of the four conditions, study participants were asked to rate the nutrition level of the cereal. Cronbach's [alpha] was .92 for these items. Next, subjects were asked how often they might consume the cereal for a healthy diet. Options were "never," "less than once a month," "once a month," "2-3 times a month," "once a week," "2-3 times a week," "4-5 times a week" and "daily."
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Finally, subjects were asked four questions about the different types of fiber, "Insoluble fiber is best for: stabilizing blood sugar, promoting regularity (correct answer), reducing cholesterol, all the above, none of the above" and "Soluble fiber is best for: lowering LDL blood cholesterol (correct answer), promoting regularity, reducing constipation, all the above and none of the above." Participants were also asked which foods contain these different types of fiber, "Insoluble fiber is most often found in: pears, apples, bran cereals (correct answer), all the above and none of the above" and "Soluble fiber is most often found in: wheat brans, com brans, oat brans (correct answer), all the above and none of the above." Similar to the pilot test, the stimuli and questions were administered via a Web-based survey.
When asked about the different types of fiber, 40% of participants knew that insoluble fiber is best for promoting regularity, and 27% were aware that soluble fiber is best for lowering blood cholesterol. Only 16% of participants correctly answered both questions about the type of use for fiber. Further, 40% of study participants were aware that insoluble fiber is most often found in bran cereals, and 16% were aware that soluble fiber is found in oat brans. Only 9% of participants could correctly answer both questions about where these types of fiber could be found. Less than 3% of the sample could answer all of the four questions correctly. This clearly demonstrates a lack of knowledge regarding fiber.
To assess whether the fiber information contained in the nutrition facts panel had an effect on participants' evaluations of the amount of fiber in the target product, they were asked at the end of the questionnaire to rate (on a 7-point scale) the level of fiber in the target product. Results indicated that there was a significant main effect for the nutrition facts panel, F (1, 50) = 57.72, p < .01. Those participants exposed to the high-fiber nutrition facts panel rated the level of fiber higher than those who viewed the low-fiber nutrition facts panel, M = 4.7 and M = 2.7. These initial findings support that consumers were aware of the fiber nutrient information integrated into the nutrition facts panel and effects were in the appropriate direction.
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
Univariate analyses were performed to determine if there were any differences in participants' perceptions of nutrition as well as frequency of consumption for the target product. Results revealed that there was a significant claim x nutrition facts panel interaction, F(1, 147) = 5.1, p < .05 for perception of nutrition. Higher values indicate higher nutrition levels (Figure 3). In the fiber claim condition, there were significant differences in perceived levels of nutrition between the low-and high-fiber nutrition facts panel (M = 3.32 and M = 4.24, p < .05). However, there were no significant differences between perceived levels of nutrition in the no claim condition between the low- and high-fiber nutrition facts panel (M = 3.33 and M = 3.38, p > .05).
The interaction was qualified by main effects for both the fiber claim, F(1, 150) = 5.01, p < .05, and nutrition facts panel conditions, F(1, 150) = 6.24, p < .05. Those individuals exposed to the cereal with the fiber claim rated the cereal as more nutritious (M = 3.8) than those who saw the cereal without the claim (M = 3.3). Likewise, the cereal with the high-fiber nutrition facts panel (M = 3.8) was rated as more nutritious than the low-fiber nutrition facts panel (M = 3.3).
Ordinal regression was used to assess the effect of the target products on consumption levels. Consumptions levels were regressed against claim information (claim or no claim) and nutrition facts panel information (low or high fiber). As shown in Table 2, results indicated that there was a main effect in both the claim conditions (b = .66, Wald = 5.29,
p < .05) and nutrition facts conditions (b = -.686, Wald = 5.64, p < .05; [chi square] = 9.22, p < .05; Nagelkerke [R.sup.2] = .06). The regression indicates that study participants exposed to the cereal with the fiber claim felt that consuming the cereal more often would contribute to a healthy diet than those not exposed to the claim. (1) Similarly, those presented with the high-fiber nutrition facts panel deduced that more cereal should be consumed for a healthy diet than those who viewed the low-fiber nutrition facts panel.
Due to forced exposure to package stimuli outside of a retail store environment, these studies, which occurred in an experimental setting, may restrict the generalizability of our results. However, findings do suggest that a segment of consumers may perceive products with fiber claims as more nutritious and more effective at promoting good health than those without fiber claims, irrespective of the information included in the nutrition facts panel. Results from the main study in this research indicated that there were no significant differences between individuals in their perceptions of nutrition for a product high in fiber (according to the nutrition facts panel) with no claim and a product low in fiber (according to the nutrition facts panel) with no claim. The fiber claim was the heuristic that was used to discern the product's nutrient benefits. This may be due to low motivation of consumers to process nutrition information as well as limited ability and opportunity. Additionally, individuals felt that increased levels of consumption of these products would lead to a healthier diet. Few of the participants were aware of the different types of fiber and in which foods they are found.
A majority of Americans are interested in foods that can provide a host of health benefits, including maintaining overall health and wellness. However, despite the interest consumers have in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, they may lack adequate information about which food products to consume for desired health benefits. Studies indicate that consumers look to a number of sources to help them make decisions about foods choices, including medical professionals, the media, friends and family as well as food labels (Food Insight 2011).
More programs may need to be developed to educate consumers about the different types of fiber. Such education could focus on including information about daily recommended guidelines and serving sizes of fiber as well as the role of fiber in a diet. It may also be time for the development of a more understandable and consistent classification of fiber. Given the positive impact of the front-of-package fiber claim on perceptions of nutrition and consumption frequencies, the FDA may need to consider developing guidelines for the use of such information. This might include information about the type of fiber contained in the product. Finally, developing ways to present this information in a lucid, understandable manner that appeals to individuals across a range of literacies is paramount.
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(1.) Data were also analyzed using ANOVA. Similarly, there was a main effect in the claim conditions, F(1, 150) = 7.08, p < .01, and nutrition facts conditions, F(1, 150) = 6.24, p < .01, for consumption frequency. Study participants exposed to the cereal with the front-of-package claim felt that consuming the cereal more often would contribute to a healthy diet (M = 5.3) than those not exposed to the claim (M = 4.52). Similarly, those presented with the high-fiber nutrition facts panel (M = 5.2) deduced that more cereal could be consumed for a healthy diet than those who viewed the low-fiber nutrition facts panel (M = 4.5).
Gail Zank (email@example.com) is an Associate Professor of Marketing in the McCoy College of Business at Texas State University-San Marcos. Elyria Kemp (firstname.lastname@example.org) is an Assistant Professor of Marketing in the McCoy College of Business at Texas State University-San Marcos.
TABLE 1 Study 1: Perceived Nutrition Levels and Health Benefits of Fiber Claims Mean Scores Fiber No Fiber Claim Claim p Value Nutrition level 3.45 2.64 0.01 Digestive health 4.3 3.48 0.01 High energy levels 4.22 3.95 0.05 Regulation of blood sugar levels 3.87 3.35 0.05 Likelihood of disease risk 3.58 4.69 0.01 Likelihood of weight gain 3.87 4.86 0.01 Note: Energy levels and regulation of blood sugar levels did not reach statistical significance (p < .10). TABLE 2 Ordinal Regression Results Nagelkerke [R.sup.2] = .06 [chi square] = 9.22 Standard Wald Variable Coefficient Error Statistic p Value Claim (fiber .660 0.29 5.29 <.05 or no fiber) Nutrition facts .686 0.28 5.64 <.05 (high or low fiber)
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|Title Annotation:||TRENDS AND APPLICATIONS|
|Author:||Zank, Gail M.; Kemp, Elyria|
|Publication:||Journal of Consumer Affairs|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
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