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Verbeke – Impact of communication on consumers’ food choices

Verbeke, Wim. “Impact of communication on consumers’ food choices.” Proceedings of the Nutrition Society Vol. 67 (May 2008): 281-288.

Key Words: communication techniques, information retention, consumer choice, behavior change

In his article, Wim Verbeke researched the key issues surrounding food communication. He also described the determinants of effective communication and dissected the modern-day consumer persona. He believed the topic of food communication and consumer choice has gained recent popularity and there has become a growing interest in the role and mechanisms of information and the spreading of knowledge.

One of the biggest problems in relation to information about health and nutritional composition, according to Verbeke, is trusting the credibility of these information sources. This, along with the constant changing and unpredictability of consumer interest, and the difference in processing by receiving audiences, makes communication to consumers very difficult. Information can be misinterpreted, overlooked, or just simply incorrect. There are so many uncontrollable factors that go into classic transmission of communication, and something can go wrong at any level: beginning with the sender, traveling through the channel, or with the receiving end.

Verbeke believed that although there are challenges in relation to food communication, there are ways in which it can be effective based on the way modern consumers think and gather information.

With today’s consumers having very low levels of involvement in the production of their food, food-related decisions are often made on a whim and not heavily thought out. Time constraints from busy schedules and having to choose between numerous products having very little to differentiate them, also adds to this very low-effort thought-process. Verbeke described this way of thinking as being “based on heuristics,” and “following peripheral routes of information processing.” This is why the majority of the population buys the name brand items; it means less thinking and minimal information gathering. Sources/communicators need to make their information easy, quick, and eye-catching in order to get the attention of the consumer. And this does not even work 100% of the time. Verbeke found that even when information is free, it may be the most rational decision for the consumers to remain ignorant in order to prevent information overload or a change in their current lifestyle.

In his conclusion, Verbeke states that yes, consumers’ food choices and behavior can be influenced by information, but the effectiveness of communication efforts still face difficulties.

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