On SAGE Insight: That’s Not So Bad, I’ll Eat More! Backfire Effects of Calories-per-Serving Information on Snack Consumption

From Journal of Marketing

Calorie information seems to be everywhere, and yet there is still much to learn about how it affects consumption. This article offers a more complete understanding of how provision of calories-per-serving information on a food package label affects consumption amounts. This research is timely because of increasing public policy and food manufacturer interest in the effects of prominent presentation of nutrition information on packaged foods (e.g., front-of-package labels) and because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is mandating increases in the typically small stated serving sizes for many packaged foods, which would increase the calorie levels on the nutrition label.

Across five studies, researchers find that calories-per-serving information, particularly information that is below expectations, creates a backfire effect entailing increased consumption of an unhealthy snack. To conclude the authors offer managerial, policy, and consumer welfare implications, including proposing and testing larger stated serving sizes as an intervention.

Abstract

This research investigates how provision of calories-per-serving information on serving size labels affects snack consumption quantity. Drawing from expectancy-disconfirmation theory, this research shows that providing calories-per-serving information can ironically create a consumption backfire effect (consumers eat more when presented with calories-per-serving information) for snacks perceived as unhealthy but not for snacks perceived as healthy. The authors find that this effect arises when calorie expectations are higher than the posted calories-per-serving level—a frequent occurrence due to stated serving sizes that are typically smaller than amounts consumed in one sitting. The authors also show that attention to calorie information plays a key role such that the backfire effect occurs among consumers who pay more attention to calorie information. Furthermore, motivational factors including individual differences and perceptions of the risk associated with consuming a snack also play a role in driving consumption differences. The authors offer managerial, policy, and consumer welfare implications, including proposing and testing larger stated serving sizes as an intervention.

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Article details
That’s Not So Bad, I’ll Eat More! Backfire Effects of Calories-per-Serving Information on Snack Consumption
Andrea Heintz Tangari, My (Myla) Bui, Kelly L. Haws, and Peggy J. Liu
First Published November 30, 2018 Research Article
DOI:10.1177/0022242918815895
Journal of Marketingc

     
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