If that organic yogurt you’ve switched to just feels all-around healthier than its non-organic counterpart, it’s possible you may be under the powerful sway of its “organic” label, suggests a new study.
The study was published early online today in Food Quality and Preference.
Researchers went to a mall and laid out pairs of three foods: yogurt, cookies, and potato chips. Each pair of foods was identical to one another. The only difference between the two foods was its packaging. One yogurt, cookie and potato chip packaging prominently displayed that the item was organic. (All were actually organic.) None of the items featured brand names and the packaging was designed to appear similar.
Yet after the 115 participants tasted each pair of foods, one after the other, they judged the organic yogurt and cookies as having fewer calories than its twin. For example, the shoppers estimated the organic cookie had on average 48 fewer calories than the conventional.
All the organic labels had an effect on participants when it came to nutrition. The labeled organic foods were said to taste ‘lower in fat’ than the non-organic. Shoppers rated the organic cookies and organic yogurt as having more fiber. And the organic cookie was rated as more nutritious overall.
Shoppers also were willing to pay almost 25 percent more for the organics.
The authors attribute their findings to the “health halo” effect, having one health claim on a packaging leading consumers to think a product is healthier in general.
This “health halo” effect had less of an effect on those participants who regularly read nutrition labels and purchased organic foods, the study found.