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Misleading or informing? Examining the effects of labeling design on consumers' perception of gluten-free products and wheat safety

Agricultural Communications Documentation Center (ACDC)
Cantrell, Kimberly (main author), Li, Nan (author), Meyers, Courtney (author), Akers, Cindy (author), Association for Communication Excellence (ACE)
Online journal article
Publication Date:
United States: New Prairie Press
Agricultural Communications Documentation Center, Funk Library, University of Illinois
Subject Term:
consumers, data analysis, data collection, design, food policy, food safety, gender, information, labeling, marketing, marketing techniques, perceptions, wheat, health, labels, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), framing, age, food processing, misinformation, misleading, disinformation, gluten-free, certified gluten-free, political ideology, gluten knowledge
18 pages., via online journal, As food products marketed as “gluten-free” become increasingly popular, many consumers start to exclude sources of gluten (e.g., wheat, barley, and rye) from their diets for both medical and non-medical purposes. The grain industry is facing a growing challenge to (re)boost consumers’ confidence in the healthiness and safety of its commodities. Using 561 participants recruited from the Amazon Mechanical Turk workers’ panel, this study implemented a 2 (pretzels vs. potato chips) * 2 (positive- vs. negative- frame) * 2 (wheat image vs. no wheat image) experiment to examine the effects of gluten-free labels on consumers’ perceived healthiness and safety of wheat, perceived benefits of labeled products, and their evaluation of the shown labels. Results showed that consumers evaluate the gluten-free labels most positively when they appear on products that could have contained gluten. For products that are naturally gluten-free, adding a gluten-free label only decreased consumers’ confidence in such labels. The presence of gluten-free labels increased consumers’ perceived benefits of the labeled products when they do not contain any misleading information (e.g., image of a wheat head). However, some gluten-free labels could have negative impacts on consumers’ perceptions of the healthiness and safety of wheat. Overall, food producers and marketers might have undervalued consumers’ literacy and overestimated their susceptibility to marketing strategies. We discussed the implications for food marketers, regulators, and communicators.