Study: Fear-based messaging negatively affects consumption of fresh produce

newspaperA recent study found that fear-based messaging tactics have led to a decline in produce consumption among low-income shoppers.

Researchers at the Illinois Institute of Technology’s Center for Nutrition Research surveyed more than 500 low-income consumers to learn what marketing terms influence their shopping intentions. Among the key findings was misleading messaging that inaccurately described certain fruits and vegetables as having high pesticide residues. Those messages resulted in consumers not purchasing those products, whether they were grown organically or conventionally.

“We were surprised to see how informational content that named specific fruits and vegetables as having the highest pesticide residues increased the percentage of shoppers who said they would be unlikely to purchase any type of fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Britt Burton-Freeman, associate professor of food science and nutrition at the Center for Nutrition Research.

Tony Banks, assistant director of commodity marketing for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, said, “It’s concerning that people are ignoring the health benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables and listening to incorrect marketing messages from groups and companies that are anti-ag or pro-organic—and that those messages are being perpetuated by some media outlets. There is ample, undisputed research out there that supports the importance of fresh produce in a healthy diet.”

Despite efforts by the health community, consumption of fruits and vegetables is stagnating, said Dr. Elizabeth Pivonka, president of the Produce for Better Health Foundation. “This new study shows what we have been concerned about for some time,  that safety fears may be another barrier to consumption of these healthy and nutritious foods. The impact of the fear-based messaging on low-income consumers is especially troubling, since many don’t have access to or can’t afford organic produce.”

Since science shows both organic and non-organic produce is safe and can be eaten with confidence, consumers should not pay attention to fear-based marketing tactics, Banks said.