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You taste what you see: Do organic labels bias taste perceptions?

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Does simply believing that a processed food is organic improve how enjoyable it tastes, influence caloric estimations, or increase how much people are willing to pay for the item? In the present study, 115 participants recruited from a local shopping mall were asked to taste and evaluate three paired food samples (i.e., cookies, potato chips, and yogurt). Each of those food samples was labeled, specifying one of the items in the pair as ‘organic’ and the other label specifying its counterpart as ‘regular’, although they were identical and organically produced. Results found that participants estimated those foods with organic labels to be lower in calories than those without the organic label. Furthermore, foods with the organic label elicited a higher willingness-to-pay and yielded better nutritional evaluations (e.g., tastes lower in fat, higher in fiber) than foods without the organic label. Finally, results found that the effects of the organic label on caloric estimations were less pronounced among people who typically read nutritional labels, who often buy organic foods, and who often engage in pro-environmental activities. This underscores the idea that the health halo effect is primarily driven by automatic processing based on heuristics. Understanding how consumers use nutritional information on product labels has important implications for both public policy as well as processed food manufacturers who use such claims as tools to market their products.
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