Previous research has shown that front-of-pack labels (FoPLs) can assist people to make healthier food choices if they are easy to understand and people are motivated to use them. There is some evidence that FoPLs providing an assessment of a food's health value (evaluative FoPLs) are easier to use than those providing only numerical information on nutrients (reductive FoPLs). Recently, a new evaluative FoPL (the Health Star Rating (HSR)) has been introduced to Australia and New Zealand. The HSR features a summary indicator, differentiating it from many other FoPLs being used around the world. The aim of this study was to understand how consumers of all ages use and make sense of reductive FoPLs and evaluative FoPLs including evaluative FoPLs with and without summary indicators. Ten focus groups were conducted in Perth, Western Australia with adults (n = 50) and children aged 10-17 years (n = 35) to explore reactions to one reductive FoPL (the Daily Intake Guide), an existing evaluative FoPL (multiple traffic lights), and a new evaluative FoPL (the HSR). Participants preferred the evaluative FoPLs over the reductive FoPL, with the strongest preference being for the FoPL with the summary indicator (HSR). Discussions revealed the cognitive strategies used when interpreting each FoPL (e.g., using cut offs, heuristics, and the process of elimination), which differed according to FoPL format. Most participants reported being motivated to use the evaluative FoPLs (particularly the HSR) to make choices about foods consumed as part of regular daily meals, but not for discretionary foods consumed as snacks or deserts. The findings provide further evidence of the potential utility of evaluative FoPLs in supporting healthy food choices and can assist policy makers in selecting between alternative FoPL formats.
Talati, Z., Pettigrew, S., Kelly, B., Ball, K., Dixon, H. & Shilton, T. (2016). Consumers' responses to front-of-pack labels that vary by interpretive content. Appetite, 101 205-213.