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‘How many calories are in my burrito?’ Improving consumers’ understanding of energy (calorie) range information

Health, Marketing, calories, food

Abstract

Objective Energy (calorie) ranges currently appear on menu boards for customized menu items and will likely appear throughout the USA when menu-labelling legislation is implemented. Consumer welfare advocates have questioned whether energy ranges enable accurate energy estimates. In four studies, we examined: (i) whether energy range information improves energy estimation accuracy; (ii) whether misestimates persist because consumers misinterpret the meaning of the energy range end points; and (iii) whether energy estimates can be made more accurate by providing explicit information about the contents of items at the end points.

Design Four studies were conducted, all randomized experiments.

Setting Study 1 took place outside a Chipotle restaurant. Studies 2 to 4 took place online.

Subjects Participants in study 1 were customers exiting a Chipotle restaurant (n 306). Participants in studies 2 (n 205), 3 (n 290) and 4 (n 874) were from an online panel.

Results Energy ranges reduced energy misestimation across different menu items (studies 1–4). One cause of remaining misestimation was misinterpretation of the low end point’s meaning (study 2). Providing explicit information about the contents of menu items associated with energy range end points further reduced energy misestimation (study 3) across different menu items (study 4).

Conclusions Energy range information improved energy estimation accuracy and defining the meaning of the end points further improved accuracy. We suggest that when restaurants present energy range information to consumers, they should explicitly define the meaning of the end points.

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