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VEGANO-PHOBIA: Slapping a ‘vegan’ label on a product doesn’t always pay off, study finds

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A vegan label on a product expected to be vegan anyway (hummus or raspberry jam) did not influence expected taste. However, putting a vegan label on a vegan product that's usually considered not vegan-friendly (cheese spread) led to 'perceptual biases'.

JONATHAN CHADWICK: More and more food producers are slapping ‘vegan’ labels on their products to entice a new generation of ethical eaters. But a new study suggests these labels can have a negative effect how the food is perceived by consumers. Researchers in Germany investigated product perceptions and consumer purchasing intentions around vegan labelling on products. They found that people expected certain products to taste worse when they saw they had a vegan label – probably on the basis that they knew it didn’t contain milk, butter and other tasty animal fats.

The study focused on ‘randomly-vegan products’ – food products that are vegan by default, rather than being formulated specifically for the vegan market. An example is Nestle’s Shreddies, which added a prominent green vegan leaf-shaped label to its packaging. Such a label could put off omnivores who might erroneously believe Shreddies have a new and less tasty ‘vegan’ recipe… it started adding a green vegan label to its boxes in 2018, even though the cereal has always been vegan anyway…

For the study, the researchers worked with 432 participants with an average age of 27 years, all of whom followed various diets – omnivorous (meaning they eat both animal and plant products), vegetarian, vegan and more. All participants were distributed into groups and randomly allocated one of four jarred products that were either labelled or unlabelled with a vegan logo. The products were hummus, raspberry jam, chocolate spread and a cream cheese-style spread with herbs…

Volunteers were asked to rate the product’s healthiness, expected taste, sustainability and their consumption intention. Researchers found that a vegan label on a product expected to be vegan anyway (hummus or raspberry jam) did not influence expected taste. However, putting a vegan label on a product that’s usually considered not vegan-friendly (chocolate spread or cheese spread) led to ‘perceptual biases’.

Essentially, volunteers tended to assume chocolate spread or cheese spread with the vegan label wouldn’t taste good, likely because a ‘proper’ version of such a product would have to contain animal ingredients. For example, milk is generally deemed by society to be an integral ingredient in chocolate. Overall, the study shows that manufacturers might be making their products more appealing to vegans with their vegan labelling.

But this risks losing customers who do eat animal products, who might decide not to buy because of the vegan label… Our study shows that food manufacturers should be cautious about labelling food products as vegan if consumers are not expecting a vegan product,’ said study author Gesa Stremmel at the University of Goettingen, Germany. ‘Consumers might not only perceive the product as healthier and more sustainable, but also expect it to taste worse’. SOURCE…

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