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Second Newsletter, March 2016

In this newsletter we present you with the main outcomes of our work area called the "Methodological Toolbox". The project analysed existing consumer research methods and tested them in the context of health claims and symbols. The goal has been to develop recommendations for stakeholders, e.g. which method to use for which research question, including pros and cons of each method.
We further introduce you to two new lead researchers of CLYMBOL, Prof Klaus G. Grunert and Prof Andrea Gröppel-Klein, who talk about their research and what impact they hope it will have.

If you are interested in more CLYMBOL results, don't miss out on registering for the final conference which takes place on 15 June 2016 in Brussels. Seats are filling up fast!

Register for the final conference here.

Choosing the right method – know your target group

Choosing a scientific method is dependent on what research question you want to find an answer to. If you want to know how often it rains in a certain area, you can count umbrella sales or use rain gauges to measure precipitation. However, deciding on a method is, although vital, a compliccontactated matter because different aspects need to be considered. This includes factors like costs, complexity, sample size and reliability. If researchers use an unfitting method, the results will be contorted and the conclusions based on these results will not be helpful or successful.

The interest in health claims and their effects differs between the different stakeholders. The food industry may want to know the effect health claims have on consumers’ willingness to buy their product and they might also want to know if the claim’s interpretation influences the brand’s or company’s image. Policy makers are more interested in the health claims’ effect on public health by leading to healthier food choices and diets. Both parties, however, are interested to know whether the claims are correctly understood by consumers. Consumer scientists want to know more about the underlying mechanisms of the claims’ effects. To be interesting and relevant to these different interest groups, CLYMBOL researchers developed different recommendations for methods suitable for their various needs.

Methods tested in CLYMBOL

In order to develop suitable recommendations for the different CLYMBOL stakeholders, it was first necessary to select appropriate research methods for analysing the effects of health claims. To analyse how health claims affect consumers, it is crucial to discern if consumers correctly understand the claims and if they change their purchase behaviour (e.g. buy more of the product) and of course if they also consume the bought product. In order to produce a list of appropriate methods from which to choose select methods for testing, previous literature was reviewed, consumer behaviour theories were examined and key informant interviews and results from previous CLYMBOL studies were used.

Gauging how people understand health claims

Which method is best to better evaluate how well consumers understand health claims? To find out, the project looked at two well-established methods in the field of consumer science and it turns out they complement each other. The first method, the CUT (Consumer Understanding Test) method, is used to measure understanding of health claims by categorising respondents’ answers in three different categories: safe, risky or other. They are classified as safe when respondents’ answers reflect the meaning of a health claim in accordance with the EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods and as risky if they stray too far from the scientific dossier behind that claim. The second method, the laddering method (soft and hard laddering), can be used to uncover what attributes consumers assign to a product with a certain health claim or symbol and what the consequences of consuming such a product are, i.e. how they think consuming this product (with the health claim) will affect them. In short, the CUT method can tell you if consumers understand a claim and the laddering method can show how consumers arrive at their conclusions by eliciting the process of interpreting the meaning of a claim.

Evaluating people’s buying behaviour

The decision of what to buy when grocery shopping is the result of a complex chain of behavioural processes and as such is difficult to model and study with only one set of methods. To find the best way of understanding these decisions, CLYMBOL looked at several methods. Sales/scanner data were selected as a starting point. The advantage is that data from the point-of-sales (the point at which a customer makes a payment in exchange for goods) best reflects actual food choices and allows for consumer behaviour to be monitored without interfering and, therefore, without influencing their behaviour. To better explain product choice, eye-tracking was selected as a suitable method, as it allows researchers to observe consumers’ attention to various parts of a product package, including whether they looked at health claims and symbols. Electrodermal reaction measures were further included in this set of tools, to monitor respondents’ arousal. Arousal is the basis for emotions, motivations and behavioural reactions and is a major factor in consumers’ in-store behaviour. Lastly, to gain a complete picture of people’s food choices, additional questionnaires were added to this set of methods, in order to ask respondents about their attitudes and perceptions towards the foods they had looked at and selected from.

Testing methods to understand consumption behaviour

As diet is an important factor for people’s health, CLYMBOL carried out a pilot study to explore which methods might be most useful for future studies on the role of health claims on people’s consumption. Individual consumption behaviour most generally refers to what one might eat or drink. An array of consumption methods and study designs are currently available to assess dietary intake. These can range from a single item question (“what did you eat for breakfast today?”) to validated food frequency questionnaires, 24 hour recall interviews or epidemiological modelling of dietary patterns. Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages (e.g., time/financial/skill resources required). Two main consumption methods were compared: i) repeated real-world food diary; and ii) one-off laboratory recording of food weight before and after consumption. The validity of food diaries was measured using repeated urine samples (urinary nitrogen is a bio-chemical marker of protein intake), as well as changes in weight or energy balance (via the combination of consumption data with activity watch and physical activity diary data).


For more information about the methods, read here

Recommendations for CLYMBOL stakeholders

Recommendations for the industry

The industry should use the CUT method to document that a claim or a symbol is understood as required by the regulation. This method can not only analyse whether a claim is correctly understood, but also has the advantage of being easily applicable on a large sample size consisting of the general population or a specific target group. Furthermore, it can pick up on the influence of other factors, e.g. marketing slogans on-pack.  
For the (food) industry, the most decisive factor is the influence of a claim or symbol on consumers’ decision to buy the product. In order to trigger consumer choice, a claim must first catch a person’s attention. Eye-tracking is a reliable and valid method to evaluate products’ abilities to attract attention. It allows testing of different versions and contexts of a claim either in a lab setting or in a real supermarket, thereby simulating a real shopping situation. To test whether a health claim influences the brand or company image, the laddering method can be used as it analyses the inferences consumers make of a product. The perceived image of a product might not lead to an immediate purchase, but may influence future decisions.

Recommendations for regulators

For regulators, an important question is whether a claim is correctly understood by the average consumer. A combination of the CUT and the laddering method is advised. As explained before, the CUT method will tell whether the claim is correctly understood and the laddering method can additionally show if consumers know that the claim is relevant for them. This combination is also useful to evaluate whether a health claim or symbol will lead to healthier choices. The CUT method will demonstrate understanding but the laddering method can analyse how changed wording influences consumers’ understanding. To observe the influence of health claims on consumers choosing the product, a combination of eye-tracking and choice experiments is advisable. Eye-tracking will show how much attention the claim receives and the actual choice should be evaluated by choice experiments as purchase data may not be available.

Recommendations for consumer scientists

Similar to the recommendations above, consumer scientists should use both the CUT and the laddering method to evaluate consumer understanding. To evaluate consumer purchasing, a set of different methods is required. Eye-tracking can be used to measure attention and the spontaneous effect of the product on the consumer can be evaluated by measuring electrodermal reactions, analysing a person’s arousal. However, results suggest that the spontaneous effect resulting from health claims and symbols is limited. Choice experiments are the recommended method to test consumer purchase as sales/scanner data may not always be available or accessible for researchers.

The limitations of consumption methods are widely known and reported. Therefore, researchers are required to consider various factors to select the most accurate and reliable method that is also feasible and appropriate for the research question under study and to help inform the study design. Recommendations from the CLYMBOL research for the future design of studies into health claims include considering whether consumption is the outcome measure of choice, i.e. is it possible or necessary to have a consumption measure that can identify health claim-relevant consumption or are purchase methods adequate proxies of consumption for these purposes? If consumption is to be considered, then this needs to be defined, i.e. does consumption refer to the amount consumed or the frequency of consumption or both? Will the outcome measures be food choice, intention to consume or intake measures at the dietary, food or nutrient level? Whatever the answers to these questions are, it appears the single item questionnaire survey measures of consumption frequently employed in the available health claims literature review are not likely to not be sufficient measures of consumption. Researchers should be aware of their limitations and consider the possibility of incorporating more than one measure of consumption in their study design.

Researcher Portraits: Prof Klaus G. Grunert and Prof Andrea Gröppel-Klein

In this newsletter we introduce Prof Klaus G. Grunert from the Aarhus University (Denmark) and Prof Andrea Gröppel-Klein from the University of Saarland (Germany).

klaus grunert revisedKlaus Grunert is Professor of Marketing at Aarhus University, and is the founder and director of the MAPP Research Centre. He has done extensive research in the area of consumer behaviour, mostly with regard to food, and is the scientific advisor for CLYMBOL. He leads the research on the Methodological Toolbox, testing several methods for measuring consumer understanding of health claims.

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Groeppel-Klein revisedAndrea Gröppel-Klein is Professor of Marketing at Saarland University and Director of the Institute of Consumer and Behavioural Research. Her areas of expertise include behavioural and marketing research. For CLYMBOL, together with her team, she analysed the impact of claims and symbols on in-store purchase decisions, using eye-tracking and electrodermal measures.

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Don't miss the Final Conference!

CLYMBOL researchers will present the outcomes of their studies at the stakeholder conference on June 15 2016 at the Stanhope Hotel in Brussels. They will further discuss the toolbox as well as present additional results from this project. This will be complemented by a stakeholder workshop where all project findings are translated into implications and recommendations for the main stakeholder groups (policy makers, the food industry, consumer and patient organisations etc.) – with a live voting to collect real-time feedback.

Learn more about the conference here and sign up for free!

General Questions?

Check out our FAQ page – there you will find answers to some of the most often asked questions around health claims and symbols and CLYMBOL!

Specific questions or do you want to get in contact with members of the CLYMBOL project?
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Next Newsletter

Our third newsletter will provide you with even more results of the CLYMBOL project. This time we will focus on results from our pan-European empirical research on the effects of health claims and symbols on consumer behaviour. Don’t miss out: Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.