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Do "good" food products make others look "bad"?: Spin-off effects of labels for sustainable food production in the consumer perception

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Purpose ‐ The objective of this study is to examine whether sustainability labels like Fair Trade have a spin-off effect to mainstream products in the consumer perception: do consumers perceive mainstream products and brands more negatively in the presence of a product with a sustainability label? Design/methodology/approach ‐ Five scientific experiments were conducted to test the spin-off effect of products with sustainability labels on evaluations of mainstream products. Experiments vary with respect to product category, label, respondents, and stimuli. Next, a focus group study was conducted to further explain the findings. Findings ‐ The results show that a spin-off effect of sustainability labels in the consumer perception is unlikely. None of the experiments shows a significant spin-off effect, neither directly, nor under the conditions of quality differences between supermarkets, search behaviour of consumers, presence of competing labels, and different involvement categories. Also, a variety of different types of stimuli (scenarios and visual) and research designs (experiments and focus group interviews) did not reveal the hypothesized effect. Research limitations/implications ‐ The results imply that retailers' fears for a negative spin-off effect of products with sustainability labels to the rest of the assortment hold little ground. Although the evidence is consistent over different designs, stimuli, contexts, and dependent variables, only a limited range of stimuli-method combinations is tested. Originality/value ‐ This study is the first to investigate the existence of a spin-off effect from products with a sustainability label to mainstream products.

Keywords: Consumer behaviour; Food products; Labelling; Sustainable development

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: September 5, 2008


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