Could charity food endorsements steer shoppers away from healthier choices?
Seeing a charity's logo on a food package can sway shoppers into thinking the item is healthier than it really is, according to a new study.
What's more, the presence of a charity's logo doesn't always mean that an endorsement exists, according to the research team from the University of Oregon in the US.
"There has been fear about false perceptions of endorsement by charities and other partners when aligned with unhealthy food," says co-author T. Bettina Cornwell of UO. "That probably, while real, is less worrisome than the simple misperception that a food is more healthy."
Working with 291 university students who were studying business, the research team conducted a pre-test to explore people's impulses when faced with the decision to buy cookies and crackers with charity endorsements.
Using the American Heart Association (AHA) as a health cause, the World Wildlife Fund as an environmental cause and Goodwill as a social cause the research team paired the well-known charities with cookies and crackers to see how participants would react.
In the first experiment 109 participants were faced with packages of cookies displaying either no charity affiliation or the logo of Goodwill or the AHA, indicating that a purchase would lead to a donation.
They were more likely to select the AHA-paired cookies, indicating they believed they were healthier, according to the researchers.
In a second experiment, 140 of the young business students were faced with packages of crackers and the researchers report that, once again, their participants selected the AHA-paired box over the others, citing health reasons.
In a third study, 120 adult participants viewed crackers sporting the label of Meals on Wheels without a description of the charity's cause of delivering meals to housebound individuals.
The research team reports that the presence of the logo on the crackers' packaging slightly enhanced their perception of the item as a healthy choice.
"Cause marketing can influence consumer food product evaluations when cause cues are integrated within food packaging," says co-author Elizabeth Minton of UO. "Our findings build upon prior research that has shown that corporate social responsibility efforts generally influence food product evaluations."
The study was published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs.