Sustainability Labels on Food Menus May Impact Consumer Food Choices
A recent American Medical Association study found that consumers are more likely to avoid red meat when presented with climate impact labels.
A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that consumers are more likely to avoid red meat when presented with climate impact labels.
The study surveyed 5,049 US consumers, who were presented with a fast-casual restaurant menu featuring 14 items, including meat, chicken, plant-based entrees, and salads. Participants were asked to choose one food option, with the menus having one of three label conditions:
A quick response (QR) code label on all items (control group)
A green low-climate impact label on chicken, fish, or vegetarian items
A red high-climate impact label on red meat items.
The results showed that 25% of consumers presented with high-climate impact labels were more likely to choose a sustainable menu item than the control group, while consumers with low-climate impact labels were 10% more likely to select a sustainable option when compared to the control group.
“These findings suggest that climate impact menu labels may be an effective strategy to promote more sustainable restaurant food choices and that labels highlighting high–climate impact items may be most effective,” the authors of the study wrote.
The authors also noted that voluntary industry labels implemented to date have mainly been positive labels indicating low greenhouse gas emissions or sustainable items, like the ‘Cool Food Pledge’ adopted by Panera.
The restaurant introduced a Cool Food Meals badge, which identifies dishes with a lower climate footprint across its digital menu, appearing on its website and mobile app. When Panera launched the program in 2020, 55% of its entrees were certified as Cool Food Meals.
The study suggests that negatively framed labels may be more effective than positively framed labels. However, the authors wrote that it’s unlikely the industry would voluntarily adopt a negatively framed label approach and that such an approach may need to be mandated or incentivized via legislation or regulation.
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