A study of labels on food jars
Last week an article in Packaging Digest called, “Fair-trade food labels can befuddle shoppers,” caught my eye. The article highlights a study done by a University of Michigan researcher along with a few colleagues from California State University and the University of Grenoble in France. According to the article, this investigation lead to the discovery that, “claims on food labels that a product is organic, locally produced or made by workers subject to fair labor practices may mislead consumers into thinking that such food are low in calories.” You read that right, yes, lower in calories.
Is there a fair-trade and low calorie connection?
Before you try to fly off a bridge (hey, if cookies won’t leave an inch on our waistlines as long as we buy them from Uncle Joe down the street, who knows what we’re capable of!) let’s break this low calorie assumption down. At first glance I thought a design similarity, connecting low calorie or low-fat food labels and the fair-trade label must be to blame, imaging that customers bought based on visual memory and similarity.
I was wrong. It turns out consumers are reading while they are shopping, which if you really think about it, is good news. On the other hand it also means that these shoppers are in fact aware that the labels mention no connection to special food nutrition, yet they get the impression that this food is better for them than food jars packaged by the offshore oppressed and underpaid.
Inside the mind of a consumer
How could a consumer come to the conclusion that food jars filled through the work of strong (and fairly-compensated) hands could alone make a product healthier for consumption? Maybe it’s not as far-fetched as it sounds. Think about your favorite homemade treat. You never think about the calories you’re ingesting when eating Grandma’s homemade ice cream (okay, maybe you do, but if you watch the toppings you’ll be fine). The truth is, there’s no rational explanation for this type of thinking, yet it’s happening on a large scale.
Controlling the mind of consumers may be the ultimate purpose and objective of marketers everywhere, but luckily none have quite made it there yet. Though the particular labels on food jars have increased sales it’s not necessarily in reflection of brand efforts. Somewhere between production and purchase value messages become convoluted. How can companies more articulately and clearly communicate the appropriate messages on their labels to consumers?
A probable solution
This is where Which?, a UK based product review and recommendation company comes in. In their study, "Making Sustainable Food Choices Easier," Which? addresses a similar confusing issue surrounding labels on food jars. Their investigation hinges on making eco-friendly labels on food jars more clear and understandable, but their lessons apply to this crisis as well. Here are a few recommendations from the study to consider when crafting labels for food jars.
- Simplicity – Be direct, get to the point and make it obvious.
- Impact – Make sure the label stands out on the food jars, if it doesn’t then what’s it there for?
- Consistency – Reiterate the presence and meaning of the label through consistent appearance and placement.
- Evidenced – Don’t try and pull one over on anybody. Make sure the statements you make on labels are true and founded on research consumers can access.
Ethics based labels are important. Be proud to represent fair-trade unions and local businesses, just keep in mind that there is a method to the madness. A focus on simple, impactful, consistent and fact based labels for food jars will carry the message most effectively, while allowing people to consume your product for what it is, nothing more or less.