Exploring How Consumers Compare and Respond to Food Products Based on a Multiple Traffic Light System that Includes Positive Nutrient Indicators

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Lau, Lillian
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Objective: The United Kingdom’s Food Standard Agency developed the Multiple Traffic Light (MTL) system to help consumers better understand the nutritional value of a food product. This study investigates Canadians’ response to the MTL system. Additionally, it explores how consumers make food decisions using a dichotomous MTL system that contains positive and negative nutrients. Methods: A qualitative research design was used to explore this topic and convenience sampling was used to recruit participants. Participants were asked to partake in a 1-1.5 hour long focus group interview session, which assessed their responses to mock food labels. Five focus group interview sessions were conducted throughout Spring, Summer, and Winter of 2015. Focus group interview sessions were documented, audiotaped, and transcribed verbatim. The MAXQDA software was used to code data to help generate themes. Results and Conclusion: A total of 20 adult participants from Toronto, ON and Guelph, ON participated in the study and they differed by age and gender. Seven female participants aged 18-29, four female participants aged 30-40, and three female participants aged 50+ participated in the study. In addition, three male participants aged 18-29 and three male participants aged 30-49 participated in the study. No male participants were aged 50+. Two distinct themes emerged from data collected: 1) Success of the MTL system is dependent on education and design of the label and 2) Consumers compare food products based on levels of negative nutrients, nutritional attributes, expectations, and importance of nutrients in their diet. No distinct differences were observed between age and gender groups in regards to interest in negative nutrients. The findings also suggest that the colours and text on the MTL system have more impact on food decisions compared to its numerical information. Recommendations: Further research is required to explore consumers’ responses to label alterations (e.g., design, content, separating nutrients, etc.) in comparison to new FOP labelling systems (e.g., 5-CNL), as the most effective design has not been established. Research should also be conducted to determine the most effective method to clearly educate the public about the MTL system. Researchers should also collect a larger and more diverse sample to re-examine how age and gender impact responses to dichotomous labelling schemes. Finally, the concepts of expectations and nutrient trade-offs should be further analyzed because they appear to significantly influence food decisions.
multiple traffic light system , food standards , labels , effective design , consumer reaction , positive nutrient indicators