Research on food healthiness : Supporting decisions on public health, package design, and everyday consumption situations

Food marketing can be used as a means to combat the current obesity epidemic by increasing the healthiness of a consumer’s diet. The negative and positive influence of marketing practices on food intake has been investigated for advertisement via traditional (media) and modern (online, in-store, events, etc.) channels, branding campaigns, or product placement. Another increasingly applied, yet underresearched marketing tool to communicate with consumers is product packaging. Therefore, this cumulative dissertation empirically investigates consumers’ understanding of healthy nutrition and effects of multiple package design elements on subjective food healthiness perceptions. The first article (Chapter 2) provides an exploration of fundamental lay theories regarding healthy nutrition among German consumers by using Q methodology. Relating to package design effects, Chapter 3 implicitly and explicitly establishes basic and food-related design-healthiness association for color lightness (vs. darkness) and shape roundness (vs. angularity). Chapter 4 examines how the design factor weight—as expressed by light-weighted vs. heavy-weighted colors and typefaces applied on a package design—influences the respective food healthiness perception. It also reveals boundary conditions of the effect for individuals’ health regulatory focus. Following up on this, Chapter 5 investigates the overall shape of a package design, i.e., its slimness (vs. thickness) and how it subsequently shapes food healthiness perceptions depending on participants’ gender and body mass index (BMI). It also introduces the social construct of self-referencing as an explanatory mechanism. The last chapter extends design-related findings by utilizing symbolic meaning in product images on packages that are shown to not only impact a food’s healthiness, but perceptions of its level of processing, quality, and, ultimately, its actual taste. Findings can be used to address the current public health concern by deriving implications for public health officials, marketing managers, and the informed consumer.


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