This blog has discussed the rising consumer demand for organic products and transparent food labels. But, new research from a Cornell University assistant professor of communication, published in the food journal "Appetite,' has shown that organic food labels in particular can lead consumers to feel a certain way. The researchers coined this as the "halo effect."
According to Jonathan Schuldt, the halo effect is what happens when a food label can lead consumers to create a positive opinion of that brand. This effect is created through ethically charged labels – such as USDA organic or free-range – as they can allign with the consumer's own beliefs. But, on the other hand, the halo effect can go the other way, where it can cause consumers to form negative opinions of brands because they contrast with the individual's values.
For example, with the label organic, most of the study's subjects stated that organic foods were healthier, but not as "tasty" as conventionally farmed foods. The aspect of taste was especially negative among subjects that disagreed with the ideas of organic products.
"It's a reminder that the halo effect hinges on the values of the perceiver," Schuldt said in his paper, as reported by the Cornell Chronicle. "It's not the case that you can label a food organic and expect that everyone will perceive it more positively. Under certain circumstances, ethical labels could have an unintended backfire effect."
Because the halo effect can go both ways – positive and negative – companies may need to conduct market research to ensure that their targeted audience will appreciate or desire a product that is produced organically. If so, it may benefit the company to do what it can to become USDA certified Organic, and then create custom labels that show that.