Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Sources of Information, Consumer Attitudes on Nutrition, and Consumption of Dairy Products

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

Sources of Information, Consumer Attitudes on Nutrition, and Consumption of Dairy Products

Article excerpt

The 1980s marked a period of growing consensus in the scientific community that dietary choices have a significant effect on the risk of chronic diseases. Within the public sector, recognition that changes in eating habits can improve health has generated interest in providing better nutrition information to consumers and in developing policies and programs which aid in wise food choices.

Faced with evidence on links between diet and health, private producers of foods and food products have an incentive to enhance positive health-related attributes of their products and promote or advertise health-related claims. This raises the question of whether producer advertising and labeling are effective means of communicating information on diet and health. A Federal Trade Commission study showed that in the cereal market, producer advertising and labeling on fiber provided information to consumers. Furthermore, the private producer information reached groups not effectively informed by government and other general information sources in the past (Ippolito and Mathios 1989).

Recently, large stocks of agricultural commodities and the perceived opportunity to expand demand have spurred agricultural commodity producer organizations to launch promotional programs aimed at increasing consumer demand. A special feature of several of these generic advertising programs is that they provide information about food characteristics related to nutrition and health. The success of such programs depends on their ability to change food choices through effectively communicating information on diet and health linkages. Whether or not such programs improve consumer welfare depends on the reduced costs of acquiring nutrition and health-related information and the benefits of more effective diet choices. While not addressing the net benefits of agricultural commodity promotion programs directly, this study evaluates whether commodity promotion programs can be effective in communicating nutrition information to consumers.

The example examined is the National Dairy Board's promotion of dairy products through information on calcium. The Dairy Adjustment Act of 1983 generated about $80 million for use by the National Dairy Promotion and Research Board (National Dairy Board) to promote dairy products. About one-quarter of the National Dairy Board's advertising budget was directed to increasing dairy product consumption through calcium promotion beginning in 1984-1985. In 1987-1988 this share declined mainly because of decreased emphasis on television advertising and concern about the effectiveness of such advertising. The calcium promotion program continued in print media. The main objective of the campaign was to inform consumers, particularly women, about health-related attributes of dairy products, especially that the products are good sources of calcium.

The purpose of this study is to investigate empirically the interaction among sources of information, consumers' awareness of calcium and related health attributes, and consumption of dairy products. A latent variable for the unobservable attitude or awareness of calcium-related information is constructed based on the responses to survey questions on nutrition and health. The analytical approach treats sources of nutrient and health information and consumers' attitudes and behaviors sequentially.

The paper includes a general framework for evaluating nutrient and health information and its effect on food demand. The general model is adapted to analyze calcium advertising on dairy product demand. A brief description of the data used from the Dairy Board's Calcium Ad Tracking (CAT) survey follows. Next several issues related to estimation are addressed. The empirical model is applied to the CAT data. The analysis shows effectiveness of different sources of information on consumer attitudes and behavior.

GENERAL MODEL

The effect of information about product quality or characteristics has been studied under both economic and decision theoretic models (e. …

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