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Consumer understanding of food labels: toward a generic tool for identifying the average consumer

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The ‘average consumer’ is referred to as a standard in regulatory contexts when attempts are made to benchmark how consumers are expected to reason while decoding food labels. An attempt is made to operationalize this hypothetical ‘average consumer’ by proposing a tool for measuring the level of informedness of an individual consumer against the national median at any time. Informedness, i.e. the individual consumer's ability to interpret correctly the meaning of the words and signs on a food label is isolated as one essential dimension for dividing consumers into three groups: less-informed, informed, and highly informed consumers. Consumer informedness is assessed using a 60-question test related to information found on a variety of Danish everyday food products and divided into factual questions and informedness about signpost labels. A test was made with 407 respondents who participated in four independent studies on fairness in consumer communication, and the average score for all was 57.6% of correct answers. A score of 64% and beyond would place a consumer in the upper quartile (the group of highly informed consumers), whereas a score of 52% or below would place the individual in the lower quartile (the group of less-informed consumers). Female respondents performed better than males on label recognition, and those around 40 years of age irrespective of gender performed best on factual knowledge, whereas those aged around 30 performed best on label recognition. It is foreseen that independent future studies of consumer behavior and decision making in relation to food products in different contexts could benefit from this type of benchmarking tool.
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Keywords: average consumer; consumer benchmarking; consumer understanding of food labels; fair food label communication; less-informed consumers

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: FairSpeak, Copenhagen Business School (CBS), Frederiksberg, Denmark 2: KU Life, Copenhagen University, Copenhagen, Denmark

Publication date: 2013-07-01

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