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Consumer responses to front-of-package labeling in the presence of information spillovers

Zhu, Chen, Lopez, Rigoberto A., Liu, Xiaoou
Food policy 2019 v.86 pp. 101723
consumer attitudes, consumer demand, consumer preferences, demand elasticities, food industry, logit analysis, markets, nutrition, nutrition labeling, ready-to-eat foods, sales, United States
Voluntary nutrition labeling, a means of nutrition quality disclosure, was introduced in the U.S. over the last decade by leading food manufacturers, primarily in the form of front-of-package (FOP) labeling. This article examines how consumer responses to FOP labeling via product participation and information spillovers shift consumer demand across competing products. Applying a random coefficient logit demand model to sales data from the U.S. ready-to-eat cereal market (RTEC) empirically confirms a positive participation effect of FOP and a strong negative spillover effect on non-participating products. Further results indicate that the participation and spillover effects are stronger for healthy RTECs than they are for unhealthy ones. Moreover, ignoring such effects leads to underestimation of consumer valuation of FOP labeling for participating products, higher own-price elasticities of demand and lower price-cost margins. The findings also suggest that an incentive in a firm’s voluntary participation in self-regulated labeling programs is to avoid negative treatment externalities and that less health-conscious consumers are not influenced by spillover effects. Overall, this article highlights the importance of including spillover effects in the evaluation of FOP programs and that FOP can play a positive role in improving the healthfulness of consumer choices.