Is Simpler Always Better? Consumer Evaluations of Front-of-Package Nutrition Symbols

J. Craig Andrews, Marquette University
Scot Burton, University of Arkansas
Jeremy Kees, Villanova University

Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, Vol. 30, No. 2 (Fall 2011): 175-190. DOI.


Consumers of packaged goods products in the United States recently have faced an onslaught of frontof- package (FOP) nutrition symbols and icons, including the controversial “Smart Choices” single summary indicator. In a between-subjects experiment with 520 adult consumers, the authors compare effects of the Smart Choices (SC) icon, the more complex Traffic Light–Guideline Daily Amounts (TLGDAs) icon, and a no-FOP icon control for a nutritionally moderate food that qualifies for the SC icon. Drawing from principles of heuristic processing and halo effects, the authors predict and find that the SC icon can lead to positive (and potentially misleading) nutrient evaluations and product healthfulness when compared with the TL-GDA icon or no-FOP icon control. When the Nutrition Facts Panel is not available, the TL-GDA icon results in substantially greater nutrition accuracy scores than with the SC icon or control. The authors also find that nutrition consciousness is more likely to moderate effects related to the Nutrition Facts Panel than the FOP nutrition icon information. Implications are offered for public health officials, nutrition researchers, and food manufacturers, as the Food and Drug Administration considers FOP nutrition alternatives for use in the United States.