Consumer inferences of Corporate Social responsibility (CSR) claims on packaged foods
With the growing public demands in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) of the food industry, CSR claims have begun to appear on food packages, as companies started communicating their CSR initiatives to consumers. Although food packages emerged as an important CSR communication tool, consumers' processing of CSR claims and the effects of these claims on product evaluations still remain unknown. In this regard, the present study carries two important research questions. First, do non-health/nutrition-related CSR claims influence consumers' product evaluations, such as perceived health benefits or tastes? If so, how does the effect of CSR claims differ by type of CSR claims and foods? Second, which specific CSR domain is associated with consumers' evaluations of products and/or company, and ultimately, purchase decisions? Thus, a 4 (no claim vs. three CSR claims) by 2 (food types: essential vs. indulgent) between-subjects factorial experiment was designed to examine the effect of CSR claims on consumer evaluations and related purchase decisions of product and company. With four food items categorized as essential (bread, milk) or indulgent (cookies, ice cream) foods, three domains of CSR claims (eco-friendly packaging, employee welfare, and food manufacturing CSR) were adopted. Results indicated that the packaged foods with food manufacturing CSR claims were perceived to be healthier, more nutritious, and have fewer calories, as compared with the foods with other types of CSR claims. The effect of food manufacturing CSR was reversed in taste perceptions; the foods with such CSR claims were perceived as the least tasty. The foods were perceived as the tastiest when there was the employee welfare CSR claim. Attitudes towards the company were favorable for all CSR claims; however, the employee welfare CSR was most positively perceived, as further supported by qualitative data analysis. All CSR claims were found to increase the intentions to purchase the packaged foods and willingness to pay premium. The findings demonstrate that consumer-oriented CSR (food manufacturing) is associated with product evaluations and consumers' perceived product-related benefits (health), whereas employee-oriented CSR is linked to company evaluations that are transferred to the product attributes (taste). This study also yields important practical implications for food companies and food marketers about CSR message design and communication on packaged foods.
Behnke, Purdue University.
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