All Claims are Not Created Equal: When Food Claims Need a Disclaimer – PRS IN VIVO – A BVA GROUP COMPANY

All Claims are Not Created Equal: When Food Claims Need a Disclaimer

A lot of our work at PRS IN VIVO includes testing claims for food products, particularly as they manifest on the packaging.  And we love it when deep thinkers at academic institutions take the time to do the super deep dives into the science behind how consumers perceive, interpret and make purchase decisions based on claims, and what brands need to know about it.

Our good friend and colleague, Pierre Chandon, L’Oréal Chaired Professor of Marketing, Innovation and Creativity at INSEAD, along with Quentin André and Kelly Haws, just published a study through the Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, entitled Healthy Through Presence or Absence, Nature or Science? A Framework for Understanding Front-of-Package Food Claims.

Pierre is a “big brain” and the clarity and detail of the research conducted by him and his colleagues, regarding how consumers perceive food claims, is fascinating.  PRS IN VIVO conducted a portion of the consumer research to support the study. We are thrilled to see the results published and available for all with a stake in labeling, packaging and marketing food products.

You can read Pierre’s blog post here and access the full academic paper (thank you to AMA) here.

There are several key takeaways that are worth considering if you are a food brand marketer:

  1. The first rule of food claims is they must always be truthful and accurate, but they also can’t be misleading. An example Chandon gives from another category is that tobacco products might be organic, and free of additives, but that doesn’t mean the claims can suggest that they are healthy. Likewise, in food, the most sacred rule is not to imply that just because ingredients in salty snacks or sugar-laden cereal are organic, that it has any impact on the nutritional quality.
  2. The scientists examined food claims to determine four ways they can suggest the products they promote are healthy: claims can invoke natural or scientific arguments; they can communicate the positive attributes present in the food or negative attributes absent from the food.It can get a bit complicated, but the research points out factors that impact consumer perception leading to purchase choice. Get it wrong in the First Moment of Truth, when the shopper chooses the product off the shelf, then you are highly likely to fail in the Second Moment of Truth, when the shopper becomes the consumer, tries the product, and it doesn’t live up to the claim. Get it right, and you have happy consumers and a higher likelihood of success at the register.  We believe the learning from this academic study can serve as a useful primer for your teams when they are in the beginning process of creating claims before they are tested.
  1. Lastly, not all claims are created equal; the purpose of purchase can change the perception of the claim. As an example, if a consumer is trying to lose weight, a claim of “low fat” or “light” can be perceived as a good thing, whereas if the intent of the purchase is simply eating well or for pleasure (“hedonic” eating), “low fat” or “light” can trigger the anticipation that the product might not be as tasty or satisfying, therefore discouraging the choice. Knowing the purpose of the shopper behavior can be a guidepost for the type of claim to choose.

Labeling laws in parts of the world are becoming more complicated as it relates to nutrition, country of origin of ingredients, and health claims.  As more natural, organic and functionally driven food products are teeming into the market, consumers need cues to decipher the claims on packs that guide them to the right products for the right occasions.  Brands also need a formula for communicating claims on the pack, in a way that optimizes their ability to engage and direct consumers’ choices, with product experiences that live up to the claims, delight the consumer, and encourage repeat purchases.

We are glad that academics like Pierre and his colleagues are tackling the deep science of how claims are perceived against nutritional values and sharing a blueprint for clients to use when navigating the ever-complicated landscape of food labeling and pack design.

If you have got some food claims to test, as well as shopper and product experiences to validate against those claims, we would be happy to talk about ways we can help. Contact us at

Ian Elmer leads the US Client Development and Qualitative Teams, responsible for the growth objectives of the region. He has over 20 years of experience influencing global marketing decisions for some of the world’s most iconic brands.