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Can health claims and symbols lead to healthier eating habits?

Brussels, September 26 2012. A new EU funded (FP7) project kicks off today aiming to shed light on how consumers interpret health information on food labels, and how this affects their purchasing and consumption behaviour.

CLYMBOL (‘Role of health-related claims and symbols in consumer behaviour’) is a four year research project that will provide insights into consumer understanding and behaviour related to health information. Guidelines will be developed to evaluate the effects of health information on food labels.

The issue

Health claims are messages on food packages that state, suggest or imply a relationship between a certain food product (or one of its constituents) and health. ‘Vitamin A helps the proper functioning of the immune system’, is an example. Health symbols are awarded to food products which meet certain nutrient requirements and constitute the healthiest option within a product category (e.g. Choices logo, Swedish Keyhole).

“Health claims and symbols are aids to help consumers identify foods that are healthier options, but we know little on how they impact consumer behaviour”, says Prof Dr Klaus G. Grunert, partner in, and scientific advisor to, the CLYMBOL project.

The acceptance of food products with health information is influenced by many different factors. Familiarity with the product, health claim or functional ingredient used plus personal relevance appear as the most important determinants. But what is the actual effect of health information on consumer behaviour regarding food choices?

The research

CLYMBOL aims to understand better the effects of health information on purchase and consumption patterns.

The CLYMBOL team will create a set of methodologies to measure the role of health claims and symbols in consumer behaviour, drawing on the latest developments in cognitive and behavioural science. The range of studies includes pan-European surveys, experiments in actual supermarkets and analysis of population data. By measuring consumers’ eye movements and reaction times, for example, researchers will be able to observe and analyse subconscious behaviour and link this to actual purchases.

CLYMBOL will also develop guidelines directed towards health claims and symbols, taking into account the differences between consumers and EU member states.

The consortium

The CLYMBOL consortium gathers 14 partners from 9 countries who have proven outstanding expertise in various fields: cognitive consumer psychology, economics, marketing, nutrition and public health. A retailer is also part of the group, ensuring that the research can be carried out in real-life settings.

  • Aarhus University (Denmark) – Scientific Advisor
  • Agrifood Research and Technology Centre of Aragon, CITA (Spain)
  • Corvinus University Budapest (Hungary)
  • European Food Information Council (Belgium) – Coordinator
  • Ghent University (Belgium)
  • Globus SB-Warenhaus Holding GmbH &Co. KG (Germany)
  • Saarland University (Germany)
  • Schuttelaar & Partners NV (Netherlands)
  • Swedish National Food Agency (Sweden)
  • University of Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • University of Oxford (UK)
  • University of Surrey (UK)
  • University of Ljubljana (Slovenia)
  • Wageningen University (The Netherlands)

Notes to the editor:

CLYMBOL - Role of health-related claims and symbols in consumer behaviour - receives research funding from the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme (Contract n°311963).

For more information on the project (including a fuller description of the work and biographies of key consortium partners), please contact:

Philip Springuel
Media Relations – European Food Information Council (EUFIC)
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
+32 2 506 89 89

About the European Food Information Council (EUFIC):

The European Food Information Council (EUFIC) is a non-profit organisation which provides science-based information on food safety & quality and health & nutrition to the media, health and nutrition professionals and educators, in a way that promotes consumer understanding. EUFIC receives funding from companies in the European Food and Drink sector, and from the European Commission on a project basis.

For more information about EUFIC see www.eufic.org.