To determine if consumer behavior toward food labels significantly changed since the early 90s, another misbranding study was recently completed using BiMiLeap (the app to Mind Genomics). Instead of asking the respondents one question at a time, BiMiLeap used a matrix of four characteristics with four elements describing each characteristic and using the ordinary least squares regression method for statistical analysis. For this study, the characteristics comprised of ingredients on the label, responsibility statement declaration, feelings evoked by label statements, and product price and value.
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Results indicated that all respondents perceived that food label information was modestly honest (additive constant=37). Those who “most often” purchased food for the home had strong feelings that the “name or brand or vignette of the product is consistent with the manufacturer’s location declared in the label” (coefficient=67), strongly considering product price and value when they shopped (coefficient=49). Coefficients of 10 or higher projected strong feelings.
Obtained data were mathematically clustered according to the pattern of how strongly they liked (i.e., coefficients) specific elements, resulting in two consumer mindsets. Mindset 1 strongly expected that the “name or brand or vignette of the product is consistent with the manufacturer’s location declared on the package” (coefficient=24) and with “the product contained in the package” (coefficient=15). Mindset 2 reinforced those strong feelings of truthfulness of the product label, which, for them, pointed to “certain geographical locations” (coefficient=14) that state where “the product is made” (coefficient=10), that the “product is authentic” (coefficient=16), and may be of “good quality” (coefficient=24).
The statement that denoted truthful/not deceiving branding was “All contents were grown, raised, harvested in the geographical location stated on the label” (coefficient=7, response time=0.9 s), chosen by the respondents in one of the shortest response times. For this part of the study, transformation to binary value was made stricter such that coefficients of 6 or higher denoted strong feelings. The statements that denoted not truthful/deceiving branding were “Majority of contents were from a geographical location other than that stated on the label but cooked then packaged in the geographical location on the label” (coefficient=7, response time=1.3 s) and “Name or brand or vignette of the product and the manufacturer’s location do not make sense” (coefficient=6, response time=1.5 s). The respondents took half as much more time to decide if the claim was not truthful/deceiving than that denoting truthful/not deceiving.
Results of the early 90s study and the more recent study indicate that consumer behavior toward misbranding of food labels has not significantly changed. Consumers still expect product label information and vignettes to be truthful and not misleading. But misbranding issues continue to occur.
Some Cases of Misbranding
In November 1996, Michael Norton of Kona Kai Farms was indicted for money laundering and wire fraud when he imported coffee beans from Panama and Costa Rica through a front company, removed the beans from the original bags, and re-bagged the same beans into Kona Kai Farms bags labeled “Pure Kona Coffee.” It was expected that this scandal would change labeling rules, but it did not.
More recently in July 2018, the Chicago-based company Aloha Holdings LLC issued cease-and-desist letters to two businesses in Hawaii for using the words “Aloha” and “Aloha Poke” that the company has trademarked. Aloha Holdings LLC issued an immediate stop to the use of these words when selling food, products, and services, and “all packaging, marketing materials, advertising, photographs, Internet usage.” Mainland U.S. businesses using those trademarked words were also issued letters resulting in a Washington restaurant dropping “Aloha” from its former name to become Fairhaven Poke and another in Alaska to rebrand as Lei’s Poke Stop.