Heart Images on Food Labels: A Health Claim or Not?

Foods. 2021 Mar 18;10(3):643. doi: 10.3390/foods10030643.


Health claims on food labels are used by food manufacturers to inform consumers about the health effects of a product, and such claims can have notable effects on consumer preferences. According to regulatory definitions, health claims can be either worded or presented as images, but it is not clear under which conditions an image on a food label should be considered a health claim. This question has important practical implications, as the use of health claims is strictly regulated. The objective of this study was to determine how commonly images of the heart are used on food labels, and to investigate consumers' perceptions of products labelled with heart images, using different degrees of health relationships. Both a food supply study (N = 10,573 foods) and experiments with consumers (N = 1000) were performed in Slovenia. The use of heart imagery on food products was very common (9%). The consumer study was conducted using a web panel. Structure of the study population was comparable with Slovenian adult population (18-65 years), according to gender and age. The questionnaire was split into conjoint analysis with constructed elements, a choice-based task with real-life elements and a consumers' association task. The experiments showed that a heart image as part of the brand name itself-without an additional (worded) health claim-did not cause most consumers to relate it to health. However, consumers tended to strongly relate an image of the heart as part of a brand with health benefits, where the image was accompanied by a worded health claim or if the heart image was designed specifically to imply health benefits. We can conclude that the use of heart images was very common on food products, but references to health were less common. Without a health-related context, heart images could not be considered as a health claim.

Keywords: brand name; conjoint analysis; front-of-package labelling; health claim; heart image; word association.