Labeling in the horticulture industry – consumers are paying attention
Consumers are willing to pay more for fruit plants with labels that incorporate logos they recognize, a recent University of Florida study finds.
As the first research of its kind, the findings may help growers increase the marketability of their ornamental horticulture products through labeling. Consumer preferences, visual attention and willingness-to-pay were measured and tested to determine how each label or text combination impacted a consumer’s willingness to pay for a particular fruit plant.
“Research is often conducted on consumer attention, but we are the first to look at the format of the labels. For example, text and picture combinations,” Hayk Khachatryan, associate professor of agricultural economics at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences said.
An important element of this research was to consider the halo effect, a form of bias where an opinion made in one area may influence many others even if there is not a meaningful reason for the connection.
Earlier studies showed that consumers considered chocolate labeled with the Fair Trade logo to be healthy. Fair Trade certification has nothing to do with the chocolate’s caloric or sugar content and instead indicates sustainable production practices, human working conditions, etc. In this study, the halo effect refers to consumers’ misperception that an eco-labeled product is superior to non-labeled products. It could be correct, but not necessarily in all cases and due to the halo effect consumers sometimes do not distinguish between the two, according to Khachatryan.
During experimental auctions, different label formats were displayed to consumers who submitted a bid on the plant and then moved on to the next plant with a different label. Utilizing eye tracking software, a heat map was created to display where consumers looked at the plant or label and for how long.
The amount of visual information we utilize for decision making comes from as small of an area as the size of our thumbnail and part of our visual attention is subconscious, we do not control it fully, according to Khachatryan. This makes the eye tracking software an important part of understanding which factors influence visual attention and subsequent consumer buying decisions.
The research found that consumers are willing to pay more for plants with labels with logos they recognized and bid significantly less for plants with text-only labels.
“There is significant opportunity for the ornamental horticulture industry, specifically in retail, to make information about their products clearer. Consumers are looking for it,” Khachatryan said.
“Consumers look for visual ques to prompt their purchases,” he said. “Most garden centers in Florida could improve labeling practices. The quality of horticultural product labeling could be similar to what you see in grocery stores to help consumers make choices. They may want something grown locally, and carefully crafted labels can help drive those decisions.”
This research is part of a series of research on consumer buying behavior as it relates to labeling and was conducted with support from the National Horticulture Foundation. Hayk Khachatryan’s research team in this experiment included Alicia Rihn and Xuan Wei.