Study Assesses Consumer Perception of “Whole Grain” Labeling
University of Cambridge researchers have published a study examining “whether consumers are misled about wholegrain (WG) content and product healthfulness based on common product labels.” Wilde et al., “Consumer confusion about wholegrain content and healthfulness in product labels: a discrete choice experiment and comprehension assessment,” Public Health Nutrition, August 10, 2020. The researchers showed online participants a pair of hypothetical products and asked them to determine which product is more healthful based on disclosed nutritional information, with some products containing “multigrain,” “wheat,” “made with whole grains” or similar labeling claims.
“Although by design, the ‘no WG label’ option had more actual WG content, substantial fractions of respondents incorrectly identified the ‘WG label’ option as healthier or chose the ‘equally healthy’ option,” the researchers stated. In addition, they found that “[r]espondents showed substantial difficulty in identifying the WG content of four actual products found in the marketplace,” generally overestimating the amount of whole grains in each product.
“The current study has potential policy implications for Federal Trade Commission oversight over false, unfair, and deceptive advertising, [Food and Drug Administration] oversight over food labelling, and for the [Dietary Guidelines for Americans], which are the basis for government food programmes,” the researchers concluded. “Courts have upheld the Federal Trade Commission’s finding of deception when far fewer respondents (10.5–17.3 %) were found to be misled than in the current study.”