Public Health Nutrition

Biological and behavioural determinants

Testing consumer perception of nutrient content claims using conjoint analysis

Adam Drewnowskia1 c1, Howard Moskowitza2, Michele Reisnera2 and Bert Kriegera2

a1 Nutritional Sciences Program and Center for Public Health Nutrition, School of Public Health, University of Washington, Box 353410, Seattle, WA 98195-3410, USA

a2 Moskowitz Jacobs Inc., White Plains, NY, USA


Objective The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposes to establish standardized and mandatory criteria upon which front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labelling must be based. The present study aimed to estimate the relative contribution of declared amounts of different nutrients to the perception of the overall ‘healthfulness’ of foods by the consumer.

Design Protein, fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron were nutrients to encourage. Total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, total and added sugar, and sodium were the nutrients to limit. Two content claims per nutrient used the FDA-approved language. An online consumer panel (n 320) exposed to multiple messages (n 48) rated the healthfulness of each hypothetical food product. Utility functions were constructed using conjoint analysis, based on multiple logistic regression and maximum likelihood estimation.

Results Consumer perception of healthfulness was most strongly driven by the declared presence of protein, fibre, calcium and vitamin C and by the declared total absence of saturated fat and sodium. For this adult panel, total and added sugar had lower utilities and contributed less to the perception of healthfulness. There were major differences between women and men.

Conclusions Conjoint analysis can lead to a better understanding of how consumers process information about the full nutrition profile of a product, and is a powerful tool for the testing of nutrient content claims. Such studies can help the FDA develop science-based criteria for nutrient profiling that underlies FOP and shelf labelling.

(Received April 02 2009)

(Accepted December 04 2009)

(Online publication January 15 2010)


c1 Corresponding author: Email