Food Labelling & Common Sense: A Discussion of the Effect of Food Labels on Consumer Choice

Nicoline Bruun Nielsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


Background Never has the topic of healthiness and the information of the consumers been more relevant. Still more labels are making their appearance on food packaging, all with the purpose of educating the consumers towards making healthier and more environmentally friendly choices. However, earlier studies have shown that the consumers don’t always understand what the different labels mean and that consumers rarely use them in their decision-making process.The objective The objective of this study is to examine which role the labels on food packaging have in the mind of the consumer. Do the labels in fact help the consumers make healthy and environmentally conscious choices when standing in the supermarket, and how important is the information, which the labels offer to provide? A vast amount of prior scientific studies has been carried out on this topic with the focus on the effect of single labelling of foods. It was however found that there was a lack of evidence on the effects of labelling as a general provider of information on consumer behaviour. There is therefore still a need for analysing the impact of food labels from a general perspective. This study will therefore serve as an insight into how the label elements affect the consumers’ relationship towards foods and how it affects the use of common sense.Method By means of careful reviewing the subject of labelling, consumer behaviour and common sense, the literature was compared and evaluated. The reviewing of the literature showed that prior empirical studies often either focused on the consumers self-reported relationship towards food labelling or focused on the impact of the labels on the actual consumer behaviour. It was found, that not much work had been focusing on the relationship between these two situations. The method of this study will therefore focus on the consumer’s self-reported use and relationship towards food labels through a focus group interview. This will be held up against the consumers’ actual behaviour and thoughts addressed in the actual setting in the supermarkets they usually visit. Several participating interviews were therefore carried out, where the aim was to get the participant to tell what considerations was made when shopping foods. Lastly the same participants were interviewed in an in depth interview, although due to issues regarding the ethics and answers given, these were excluded from the analysisFindings & conclusions It was found that consumers often rely on labels when they want to ensure that they are making a healthy choice. However, it seems that the consumers feel some uncertainty as to what the labels actually mean. The empirical work indicated that the consumers are aware of the existence of the food labels and that they actively want to use them in their decision making process. However, the consumers seem to put this aside in order to fulfil other objectives when shopping for food.

EducationsMSc in Economics and Marketing, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages168
SupervisorsJesper Clement