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Researcher Portait: Ellen van Kleef

Ellen van KleefDr Ellen van Kleef is an associate professor at the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour group at Wageningen University. Ellen’s team wanted to understand whether claims, symbols or other package elements change the inferences consumers draw from a food or drink (e.g. ‘this must be really healthy’) and whether this influences their eating behaviour.

How did you get involved in the CLYMBOL project?

My colleagues Hans van Trijp and Erica van Herpen were involved in the project FLABEL, which was about nutrition labelling. CLYMBOL is the follow-up project dealing with health claims and symbols. I was involved in the development of the project proposal, as my expertise and research is in the field of how the environment influences consumers in what and how much they eat. Consumers are often not aware of how strongly they are influenced by all kinds of subtle cues in their environment. Claims and symbols on food packages are key examples of subtle cues that may or may not influence consumers, often not in ways as we hope or expect.

 

What do you do for the project?

I was responsible for the consumption studies in work area 4 [featured in the third newsletter]. In our part of the project, we aimed to understand whether claims, symbols or other package elements such as pictures and colours change the inferences consumers draw from a food or drink (e.g. ‘this must be really healthy’) and whether this reduces unhealthy consumption or sometimes even increases consumption when consumers feel licensed to eat more.

 

What is the outcome of your research?

We showed that claims and logos often change the way consumers look at products, although we did not show that these changes make them eat more or less. For example, we did not find evidence that a front-of-pack health symbol is licensing consumers to eat more or make unhealthy choices. We also showed that some other package elements such as a picture are implicit health claims for consumers.

 

What impact do you hope your research will have?

Health claims and symbols on food labels are aids to help consumers identify foods that are healthier options. With our research, I hope that policy makers can better identify effective and scalable interventions to halt the rise in nutrition-related diseases such as obesity. Small changes in the environment can have a big impact on population health. We need to know which interventions are effective and which ones are not.


About the person

Dr Ellen van Kleef is an associate professor at the Marketing and Consumer Behaviour group at Wageningen University.  She researches healthy food consumption and self-control. Her focus lies on the role of subtle cues in the environment that cause people to overindulge and on how changes in the environment (smart interventions such as nudging) can assist in self-control. She has published her research in international journals such as Journal of Health Psychology, Food Quality and Preference, Appetite, Psychology and Health and Public Health Nutrition.