Food Label Details Could Have Big Influence On Consumer Purchasing, Says Study

How Much Do Food Labels Matter?

All those major corporations currently fighting against GMO labeling might really have a reason to be worried. As the debate over GMO labeling rages on, a new study demonstrates that consumers may be willing to pay more for food with detailed information on the package.

Food labels are often criticized for having information that appears relevant, but really isn't. For example, words like "natural" and "low fat" don’t have regulated meanings and are often more promotional and informational in nature. But what if food packaging actually contained useful information, such as a label that said "no artificial food dye" and then a short explanation for what artificial food dye actually was? According to the Cornell University, such details could have a big impact on the way we buy food.

Researchers found that people were willing to pay more when a food label read "free of," including phrases like “free of food dye” and “free of GMOs.” But what’s more, the study found that consumers would be even more likely to buy the product if the label also included negative information about the omitted ingredients

“What did surprise us was the effect of supplementary information,” said lead researcher Harry M. Kaiser, a Cornell professor, in a press release. “Even seemingly negative information was valued over just the label itself.”

The researchers conducted the study, by holding a series of "auctions" for various food items for their group of 351 volunteers. Some of the food contained GMOs, growth hormones, antibiotics, irradiated ingredients, red dye No. 40, trans fats and high fructose corn syrup -- all additives or ingredients that many consumers hope to avoid. When information was provided that certain ingredients were banned in the EU -- such as GMOs -- consumers were significantly more likely to purchase a product that was GMO-free.

Not only did more information make study participants more likely to buy the product, it also made them more confident about their decision, Kaiser said.

The study was published in the journal Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy.