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The Influence of Health Motivation and Calorie Ending on Preferences for Indulgent Foods

Jungsil Choi, Yexin Jessica Li, Adriana Samper, Vicki G MorwitzEditor, Margaret C CampbellEditor and Lisa E BoltonAssociate Editor

Journal of Consumer Research, 2019, vol. 46, issue 3, 606-619

Abstract: Food and beverage manufacturers now regularly display “just below” calorie amounts (e.g., 99, 199, 299) in advertisements, presumably to appeal to health-motivated consumers. “Just below” values are those that fall one or more digits below a round number, most commonly seen as nine-ending numbers. However, although nine-ending prices are known to stimulate purchase intent, it is unclear whether or when nine-ending calorie labeling shapes food preferences. The present research shows that when consumers view indulgent foods with just-below (vs. round-ending) calorie amounts, they exhibit higher consumption intentions, purchase intent, and consumption behavior, yet only if they are high in health motivation. This is due to a tendency for health-motivated consumers to overweigh the leftmost digit in multidigit numbers—a cognitive bias known as the “level effect.” This bias results in the perception that just-below (vs. round) -ending indulgent foods have relatively fewer calories, decreasing anticipated guilt and increasing consumption intentions and behavior. The superiority of just-below calorie presentation under health motivation is attenuated with the addition of reference intake labeling (i.e., % daily calorie intake values), which equalizes the magnitude of nine- and round-ending calorie indulgent foods.

Keywords: health motivation; indulgent foods; calories; calorie ending; level effect; nutrition labels (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2019
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