Study: Organic labels don't always elicit a positive response

12/13/2012 02:54:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder when it comes to organic food, according to a recent Cornell University study.

The research, published Nov. 27 online in the journal Appetite, looked at the halo effect surrounding organic food labels, according to a news release.

Halo effect refers to the phenomenon where a label leads consumers to have a positive opinion.

But the research found the positive impressions were partly based on the consumer's personal values. The study found some consumers also can have a negative impression of organic labels because of their values.

In the first of the two-part study. Jonathon Schuldt, Cornell assistant professor of communication, and Mary Hannnahan, a University of Michigan student, asked 215 students whether they thought organic food was healthier and taster than conventional food.

Most agreed that organics were a healthy choice compared to conventional food.

But fewer expected organic food to taste as good. This was especially true among respondants who had a low concern for the environment.

"Our data suggests when organic practices do not appeal to a consumer's values they expect organic food to taste worse," Schuldt said in the newsletter.

The second part explored whether pro-environmental leanings might affect paticipants' impressions.

In this part, they had 156 participants read one of two versions of a fake news article about a highly engineered drink designed to relieve symptoms of African children suffering from severe malnutrition.

The beverage, dubbed "relief drink 1.1," was developed by a collaboration between scientists and the food industry, according to the fake article.

One version of the article used the word organic every time the drink was mentioned. The other version never mentioned organic.

Participants were randomly assigned a version of the news story.

participants who were highly pro-environment judged the organic drink to be less effective than the non-organic version.

"It's not the case that you can label a food organic and expect that everyone will perceive it more positively," Schuldt said in the release. "Under certain circumstances, ethical labels could have an unintended backfire effect."

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