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The effect of the health star rating on consumer decision-making

Anderson, Catherine L., O'Connor, Erin L.
Food quality and preference 2019 v.73 pp. 215-225
decision making, grain products, nutrition information, nutrition knowledge, nutritional status, nutritive value, public policy, willingness to pay
This study investigated how the Australian voluntary Health Star Rating (HSR) influences consumer decision-making across different comparative processing contexts. The study extended upon research suggesting that consumers misinterpret the presence of the HSR as an indicator of superior nutritional quality. Further, the study assessed whether a mandatory HSR system would increase healthy decision-making. The effect of nutrition knowledge on consumers’ willingness to purchase the products was also evaluated. Participants (N = 253) completed six binary forced-choice comparisons, in which the presence of the HSR and the cereal products’ nutritional status (high or low) were manipulated. Participants also rated their willingness to purchase the items. In contrast to previous studies, consumers did not mistake the HSR’s presence as an indication of a healthy product. This suggests that the level of cognitive processing required to evaluate the HSR is appropriate for effective decision-making in this context. Participants who did not consult back-of-pack (BOP) nutritional information were susceptible to making less healthful choices when comparing a product without a HSR label to one with the HSR label. Consumers’ ability to select healthier products was heightened when both products displayed a HSR (i.e. mandatory labelling), regardless of BOP viewing. This suggests that the type of comparative context does influence consumer decision-making. Nutrition knowledge was also found to differentially affect consumers’ willingness to purchase products of low and high nutritional value. These outcomes can inform public policy, by providing evidence-based recommendations surrounding a mandatory HSR system.