KEYWORDS: Health claims, health symbols, nutrition claims, consumer behaviour, food labelling, food choice.
Health claims and symbols are a convenient tool when it comes to the marketing of foods and they should, in theory, support consumers in making informed food choices, ideally in choosing healthier food products. However, not much is known about their actual impact on consumer behaviour. CLYMBOL (“The Role of health-related CLaims and sYMBOLs in consumer behaviour”) is an EU-funded project aiming to study how health claims and symbols influence consumer understanding, purchase and consumption behaviour. During a 4-year period, a wide range of research studies have been conducted across Europe, in order to analyse European consumer behaviour in the context of health claims and symbols. Results of the studies will provide a basis for recommendations for stakeholders such as policy makers, the food industry and consumer and patient organisations.
The Regulation (EC) 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims went into effect in 2006. It was designed to offer industry a guideline on how to use claims on food products, ensuring the effective functioning of the internal EU market, whilst protecting consumers and their right to non-misleading food information (1). However, the actual effect of health claims and symbols on European consumers’ understanding, purchase and consumption behaviour was largely unknown at that time. The European Commission decided to issue a call under the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development, asking researchers to contribute to a better understanding of consumer behaviour in relation to claims and symbols on food products.
CLYMBOL (“The Role of health-related CLaims and sYMBOLs in consumer behaviour”) was awarded the grant (Grant Agreement No 311963). The project began in 2012 and ends in August 2016. It consists of five research work areas that are using a wide range of empirical methods to study the effects of health claims and symbols on consumer behaviour. Among them are cross-sectional online surveys, qualitative studies, lab experiments (e.g. eye-tracking) and real-life in-store studies. An overview of the project structure and research plans can be found in Hieke et al. (2).
The aim of the project is to study health claims and symbols in their context, e.g. as they appear on a food package, together or without additional (visual) information, and how they interplay with national (cultural) differences as well as personal factors such as motivation and/or ability to process this health-related information.
As a starting point, differences in the history of use of claims and symbols across EU Member States have been investigated, followed by a prevalence study of claims and symbols that can currently be found on food products in the EU. CLYMBOL researchers looked at how consumers use their own subjective models of health to classify and interpret claims. This qualitative research was amended by a quantitative 10-country study on European consumer attitudes as well as motivation and ability to process health claims and symbols. In a third step, a methodological toolkit was developed and tested, to provide stakeholders with a set...