The “All-Natural” Marketing Label and its Effect on Consumers

By Megan Tan ’19

Figure 1. Consumers view all-natural products more positively despite no formal definition existing for the term.

Figure 1. Consumers view all-natural products more positively despite no formal definition existing for the term.

The “All-Natural” label is extensively used to market consumer products. However, this label is not regulated or defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since it is deemed a marketing label to influence consumers’ purchases. As such, little research has been done to analyze the effect that that label has on consumers’ perceptions of “all natural” food quality, nutritional content, and acceptance.

Rebecca Liu, a graduate associate, and her team of researchers from Ohio State University investigated the impact an all-natural label had on the perceived quality of peanut butter. Peanut butter was chosen because it is commonly found in both regular and all-natural versions. In this study, 120 consumers, 48 males and 72 females, aged 18 to 65 years old were exposed to a virtual grocery store that was set up in the Immersive Technologies Laboratory at the Ohio State University. In this virtual grocery store, an audio and video footage depicting a typical peanut butter section in a grocery store was projected on a video wall. The ten minute footage displayed shelves of peanut butter along with an in-store server. Each participant was exposed to three conditions in this experiment. Each trial contained two samples of identical peanut butter in different jars. In the first trial, unlabeled peanut butter was given to the participants. In the second trial, one jar was labeled as all natural whilst the other had a regular label. The third trial was set up similarly to the second trial with the addition of the in-store server noting that one sample of peanut butter is made with all natural ingredients.

Participants were then asked ten questions like “How much artificial ingredients are in this sample of peanut butter” and “What is the maximum amount you are willing to pay for this peanut butter”. The results showed that participants rated both peanut butter samples similarly in the first trial. In the second trial, participants rated the all-natural peanut butter more positively with no increase in willingness to pay. However, in the third trial, participants’ willingness to pay increased significantly by 8%.

This research is significant because it validates the need to regulate the meaning and use of the all-natural label. Despite the all-natural label being a marketing ploy, the peanut butter study demonstrates that consumers may also perceive these labels as having better nutrition and higher quality.  Further research can be done using other consumer products in departments such as technology, lifestyle, and other food and drink items.

References:

  1. R. Liu, et al., A natural experiment: using immersive technologies to study the impact of “all-natural” labeling on perceived food quality, nutritional content, and liking. Journal of Food Science (2017). doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.13639.
  2. Image retrieved from: http://kimberlysnyder.com/blog/2012/05/24/do-all-natural-skincare-products-really-work/
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