Quality marks: useful, but too many

Dutch food quality marks from the consumer’s perspective
Consumer spending on food with a sustainable quality mark in the Netherlands increased by 18% in 2019 compared to 2018. However, the question is whether this is because consumers consciously opt for quality marks or whether the number of products with a quality mark has simply increased significantly. In the discussion about the usefulness of quality marks, one perspective has so far been missing: that of the consumer. Future of Food Institute conducted research into the role, reputation and perception of the largest quality labels in the Netherlands.

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The usefulness of food labels
Quality marks give the consumer a (limited) sense of control and the possibility to contribute to a better world in a simple way, in line with their own values. 61% of the consumers in our survey indicate that labels help them make better choices. Only 12% do not think so.
Quality marks lead to brand preference (if the consumer knows them). This is even true for the less well known ones. But simply knowing a quality mark is not enough. Consumers need to know what the logo’s stand for. If consumers only know a quality mark by name, only 12% is inclined to buy products with this quality mark. If consumers know exactly what a quality mark means, 85% is inclined to buy products with this quality mark.

A generic mistrust, however, limits the value of quality marks. There are a number of reasons for this:

  • Lack of knowledge about what the different quality marks stand for and how reliable the certifying organization is.
  • Lack of overview due to the amount of quality marks that are currently available. This has a demotivating effect on those who are willing to learn more about the value of the logos.
  • Negative image of quality marks through attention that the news media give to them.

We can say that there is hallmark fatigue. Almost two-thirds of consumers indicate that there are too many quality marks, so that an overview is lacking.

However, the negative things that are said about quality marks (mistrust, green washing, lack of clarity) are not yet causing consumers to turn away from quality marks. Hardly anyone says they consciously do not buy products with a certain quality mark.

Proactive communication required to create clarity and trust
The recommendations resulting from this research can be used to make food labels work more effectively. And by more effectively we mean that they help more consumers make a more sustainable food choice. Ultimately, that’s what it’s all about. It is clear that there is a lot to improve.

  • Work on clarity. Make sure that it is clear exactly what the contribution is to a better world for each label. Eliminate redundant quality marks and merge similar quality marks until there is a clear number. Give the quality marks a name from which the consumer can directly deduce what the quality mark stands for.
  • Build trust. Make it clear that you cannot just put a quality mark in the world. Make it clear how strict the requirements of each quality mark are and how checks are carried out. Be completely transparent and let the consumer look into the kitchen of the quality mark.
  • Communicate proactively what each label stands for, how it is monitored and what contribution a consumer makes by purchasing products with this label. Don’t wait for negative publicity.

The success of the Beter Leven (Better Life) quality mark shows that excellent results can be achieved. It does not matter which chain link takes up these recommendations. This could be the government, the bodies behind the labels, the food manufacturers or the retailers.
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Food Forum
The research was conducted with the help of our Food Forum, the Future of Food Institute’s Conscious Consumer Community. This is an easy and accessible solution that provides the consumer insights for sustainable communication and innovation. A group of committed and motivated consumers is ready to answer all kinds of consumer issues.

A variety of types of research are possible within the community, both quantitative and qualitative. The platform makes it possible to use all kinds of rich techniques such as photo assignments (e.g. store checks), collages and projective techniques. These possibilities are widely used in co-creation and idea generation, but also for the development and testing of communication and product concepts.

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