Consumer attitudes and understanding of cholesterol-lowering claims on food: randomize mock-package experiments with plant sterol and oat fibre claims

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BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES:Few studies have examined consumer acceptability or comprehension of cholesterol-lowering claims on food labels. Our objective was to assess consumer attitudes and understanding of cholesterol-lowering claims regarding plant sterols (PS) and oat fibre (OF).SUBJECTS/METHODS:We conducted two studies on: (1) PS claims and (2) OF claims. Both studies involved a randomized mock-packaged experiment within an online survey administered to Canadian consumers. In the PS study (n = 721), we tested three PS-related claims (disease risk reduction claim, function claim and nutrient content claim) and a ‘tastes great’ claim (control) on identical margarine containers. Similarly, in the OF study (n = 710), we tested three claims related to OF and a ‘taste great’ claim on identical cereal boxes. In both studies, participants answered the same set of questions on attitudes and understanding of claims after seeing each mock package.RESULTS:All claims that mentioned either PS or OF resulted in more positive attitudes than the taste control claim (P<0.0001), despite all products within each study having the same nutrition profile. How consumers responded to the nutrition claims between the two studies was influenced by contextual factors such as familiarity with the functional food/component and the food product that carried the claim.CONCLUSIONS:Permitted nutrition claims are approved based on physiological evidence and are allowed on any food product as long as it meets the associated nutrient criteria. However, it is difficult to generalize attitudes and understanding of claims when they are so highly dependent on contextual factors.

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