PROJECTS & PUBLICATIONS
Browse through our present and past research projects
investigating sustainable, healthy, and ethical consumption.
Click on a picture to view the journal publication or report.
Determinants of healthy and sustainable food choices in parents with a higher and lower socioeconomic status: A qualitative study
Establishing healthy and sustainable dietary habits in childhood is necessary for the prevention of obesity and chronic diseases, as well as for the growing pressure on our ecosystems. Considering that parents are the most important actors in affecting dietary behaviors of their children, and that there is a social gradient for obesity, we investigate differences in determinants of both healthy and sustainable food choices among parents with a higher and lower socioeconomic status (SES). Our findings suggest that these differences should be taken into account when developing intervention strategies to improve food choices in parents.
How to reduce agri-environmental impacts on ecosystem services: The role of nudging techniques to increase purchase of plant-based meat substitutes
The production of meat requires many resources and is inconsistent with sustainability and climate objectives. Lowering consumers’ demand for meat could improve the sustainability of agricultural ecosystems. To realize this transition, meat can be substituted with meat imitating plant-based alternatives. Retailers can facilitate this shift by redesigning their stores to nudge consumers towards these substitutes. Can nudging techniques in a supermarket environment increase sales of plant-based meat substitutes? We combined two nudging techniques into one intervention: adding meat substitutes in the butchery section, and placing them next to their equivalent meat products.
Nudging societally relevant behavior by promoting cognitive inferences
Effective behavioral interventions are essential to address urgent societal challenges. We present a framework for nudging interventions that builds on evidence about the goal-directed inferential processes underlying behavior We used this framework to develop nudging interventions that target context-relevant cognitive inferences. We examined the effectiveness of these inference nudging interventions for promoting two important types of societal behavior: pro-environmental actions and adherence to COVID-19 guidelines.
Food media and dietary behavior in a Belgian adult sample: How obtaining information from food media sources associates with dietary behavior
Considering the increasing influence of mass media and the possible implications it has on dietary behavior, this study examines to what extent the Flemish adult population uses mass media content to obtain food information and how using this information associates with dietary behavior, as measured by dietary intake and dietary restrictions.
Consumer evaluation of food quality and the role of environmental cues: A comprehensive cross-country study
Which food quality cues do consumers find most relevant? The increasing consumers’ concern for sustainability aspects in their food buying decisions warrants special attention to environmental-social aspects as food quality indicators. This cross-national study explores consumer evaluation of food quality and highlights the role of environmental-social cues in food quality evaluation. The findings can guide managers’ efforts to enhance environmentally sustainable behavior based on the relevance of environmental-social cues in consumers’ food quality evaluation.
Products in disguise: Communicating product benefits with surface mimicry
In an effort to find a novel way to enhance the attractiveness of healthy food, this study proposes surface mimicry—that is, designing a product to visually resemble another product—as an effective intervention to communicate property information to consumers.
Predicting meat consumption from concurrent, automatic appraisals: Introducing nuance to product appraisals
Meat consumption is subject to an intention-behavior gap, whereby consumers intend to act in line with their ethical beliefs but fail to take according action. To help understand these discrepancies, this study measures automatic appraisals of meat and vegetarian products. The research features the IMPACT, a new implicit measure to capture automatic product appraisals.
The limited impact of positive cueing on pro-environmental choices
Positive cueing (when commonly performed environmentally friendly behaviors are cued as being pro-environmental) has been proposed as a social marketing technique to promote sustainable behavior. However, three studies show that the impact of positive cueing is rather limited. We question the applicability of this social influence technique to truly stimulate pro-environmental choices in real life.
Does a single consumption imagery event increase food desire?
Food desire is an intense motivational state a consumer experiences toward food that accounts for much of consumption. While we know that experiencing desire elicits consumption imagery, the question remains whether consumption imagery alone induces desire? We identify imagined consumption as an antecedent of food desire in six studies.
Food on the move: The impact of implied motion in pictures on food perceptions through anticipated pleasure of consumption
Why do so many food advertisements show their food in motion? We investigate the effectiveness of this marketing practice in promoting healthy food consumption. Three experiments investigate whether implied motion, a popular trend in food pictures, affects food perceptions through anticipated consumption pleasure.
Best research practices for using the Implicit Association Test
Interest in unintended discrimination that can result from implicit attitudes and stereotypes (implicit biases) stimulated many research investigations. Much of this research used the Implicit Association Test (IAT) to measure association strengths that are presumed to underlie implicit biases. This article recommends best practices for research using IAT measures. We also provide recommendations for how to report procedures of IAT measures in empirical articles.
Animals like us: Leveraging the negativity bias in anthropomorphism to reduce beef consumption
We compare different types of anthropomorphism in their ability to counter consumers’ perceptual strategies and thereby reducing meat consumption intentions. Using on-pack product stickers, we compare an anthropomorphic message stressing the capacity to experience pain with two other anthropomorphic messages that have been used before (intelligence and pro-social behavior of animals).
Take a bite! The effect of bitten food in pictures on product attitudes, purchase intentions, and willingness to pay
Food pictures often display food with a bite in it. In two experimental studies, we investigated the effect of pictures of food with a bite versus no bite on product attitudes, purchase intentions, and willingness to pay. We advise field practitioners to take caution when using pictures of bitten food as this may lead to unfavorable consumer responses because of a feeling of disgust.
The effect of perspectives in food pictures on unhealthy food choices
Do food pictures with a top perspective (showing food vertically downwards) versus diner's eye perspective (mimicking the viewing point of a person sitting at a table) diminish unhealthy choices? Although both perspectives are frequently used in food pictures, consumers are more used to seeing their food from a diner’s eye perspective. This research explores the effects of both perspectives on (un)healthy food consumption.
Mock meat in the butchery: Nudging consumers toward meat substitutes
How can we nudge people in-store towards the consumption of vegetarian products? In collaboration with the Flemish Government and Colruyt Group, BE4LIFE conducted field research on the positioning of vegetarian products by placing them on the shelf next to food products well-known to many: their meat counterpart. Is this nudging technique effective in the supermarket?
A systematic review investigating successful behavior change methods and strategies to reduce animal-based protein consumption
On behalf of WWF Belgium, BE4LIFE conducted a systematic literature review on the effectiveness of behavior change techniques to reduce our meat intake. Curious to find out what works and what doesn't?
Being pro‐environmentally oriented SMEs: Understanding the entrepreneur's explicit and implicit power motives
It is important to understand the barriers and drivers of implementing a pro-environmental strategy in SMEs from an entrepreneur's perspective. In a study with Indonesian SME owners, we e explore the relation between the personal motives of the entrepreneurs and the environmental sustainability orientation (ESO) of their SMEs.
The impact of the Nutri-Score nutrition label on perceived healthiness and purchase intentions
The Nutri-Score can be an effective tool for guiding and steering consumers toward more informed, healthier purchasing decisions at the time of purchase. This research investigates the impact of the presence of the Nutri-Score and its five categories on consumers’ perceived healthiness perceptions and purchase intentions. The findings from two experiments offer actionable insights for public policymakers and manufacturers and suggest the need to embrace the Nutri-Score as the standard front-of-pack label to help fight the increasing obesity pandemic.
Traditional foods at the click of a button: The preference for the online purchase of Romanian traditional foods during the COVID-19 pandemic
Online food purchase became one of the main protagonists of the pandemic. This study valued the Internet as a mediator between producers and consumers with the power to create new demand for Romanian traditional food during the COVID-19 crisis. An online survey investigated the Romanian consumers’ perceptions of traditional foods and online purchase of traditional foods during the COVID-19 pandemic. Traditional foods have to claim their place within the digitized landscape by finding the balance between old and new, between preferences for foods taste passed through generations and new life lifestyles at 5G speed.
If you work it, flaunt it: Conspicuous displays of exercise efforts increase mate value
Why do people love to share their running routes on social media? From an evolutionary perspective, the conspicuous display of exercise efforts provides an indicator of health. So, potential mates attribute higher mate value to individuals posting about workouts because of greater inferred healthiness. In line with this theorizing, activating a mating motive increases online sharing intentions for workouts (vs. activities that require less energy) when people sense their own mate value to be low. Moreover, a mating motive increases senders' desire to ensure workout posts are noticed by attractive potential partners. This study details the implications of these findings for theory, public policy, and online community marketers.
Beliefs and actions towards an environmental ethical life: The Christianity-environment nexus reflected in a cross-national analysis
Does Christianity support pro-environmental attitudes compared to other religions? Many voices have identified the Christian theological tradition as ecologically bankrupt, while others as a source for environmental ethics. Based on a survey in 20 European countries, we argue that Christianity, as a major social actor, co-exists with and can enhance the interest in and respect for nature.
Visual design cues impacting food choice: A reviewand future research agenda
How can visual design cues affect behavioral outcomes in a food context? This review addresses the effects of the most important visual design cues on behavioral outcomes and how can they be explained, as well as the remaining research gaps in this area.
Environmentally sustainable food consumption: A review and research agenda from a goal-directed perspective
The challenge of convincing people to change their eating habits toward more environmentally sustainable food consumption (ESFC) patterns is becoming increasingly pressing. BE4LIFE published an academic research agenda to enable a more environmentally sustainable food consumption pattern from a goal-directed perspective.
Qualitative evaluation of the STOEMP network in Ghent:An intersectoral approach to make healthy and sustainable food available to all
The STOEMP network is one of the first initiatives to bring different sectors together in a municipality so as to increase accessibility to healthy and sustainable foods for all, with particular attention for the disadvantaged population. This qualitative study provides an in-depth insight into how the STOEMP network aims to reach its goal, through an intersectoral, collaborative process, exploring the facilitators and challenges of taking a systems-oriented approach to achieving this.
Fats are glossy but does glossiness imply fatness? The influence of packaging glossiness on food perceptions
How do glossy versus matte food packages influence consumers’ perceptions of the food inside the package? With an online survey and a quasi-experiment, we show that consumers draw inferences on the food’s fat level from the package surface, in that glossy packages are seen as a signal of fatness. Our findings suggest that glossy (versus matte) food packages mainly serve as a signal of negative product qualities.
Healthy advertising coming to its senses: The effectiveness of sensory appeals in healthy food advertising
With increasing obesity rates and the daily overload of unhealthy food appeals, an important objective for advertising today is to promote healthy food consumption. How can sensory marketing promote healthy food consumption? While previous studies only focused on sensory advertising for unhealthy food, we show its effectiveness for healthy food in two laboratory experiments.
Consumer understanding of food quality, healthiness, and environmental impact: A cross-national perspective
This study identifies the importance that consumers attach to quality, health, and environment selected cues of purchased food products. Findings from a cross-national survey suggest that consumers most frequently use freshness, taste, and appearance to evaluate food quality.
Nudging to get our food choices on a sustainable track
This review takes a behavioral approach to encourage sustainable food choices and discourage less sustainable options among consumers. From a nudging perspective, many behavioral changes can be encouraged in a non-obtrusive way by adapting the complex food environment in which consumers are operating. These interventions do not restrict consumers' choices but rather adapt the choice architecture wherein food decisions are made. We provide an overview of the application of nudging for more sustainable food choices and highlight where more research is needed.
Portion size effects vary: The size of food units is a bigger problem than the number
The contribution of increasing food portion sizes to the growing problem of obesity has encouraged a substantial amount of research into investigating its relationship with consumption. Do food unit-size and unit-number contribute equivalently to the effect of portion sizes on consumption? Three experiments investigate the relative impact of food unit-number and unit-size in the portion size effect. This study provides practical insights on food packaging to tackle the obesity crisis.
Show me more! The influence of visibility on sustainable food choices
Visual cues are omnipresent in an in-store environment and can enhance the visibility of a product. By using these visual cues, policymakers can design a choice environment to nudge consumers towards more sustainable consumer behavior. In a field experiment in a supermarket butchery, we use a combined nudge of display area size and quantity of displayed products to nudge consumers towards more sustainable meat choices. Changing the size of the display area and the number of products displayed in this display area can create a shift in consumers’ purchase behavior of meat.
Same but different: Using anthropomorphism in the battle against food waste
Food waste is a major threat to global sustainability. Much of it is caused by the aesthetic requirements imposed by retailers, which assume that consumers are not interested in buying misshapen produce unless it is accompanied by significant price discounts. We propose an alternative way to market such produce. Using anthropomorphism (attributing human characteristics to nonhuman objects) can increase purchase intentions for misshapen produce. Displaying misshapen produce with a smiling face and presenting shape abnormalities as body parts in point-of-purchase stimuli trigger positive affective reactions. These affective reactions enhance taste perceptions, leading to higher purchase intentions and food choice. The findings suggest an intervention that could be more effective than current public campaigns in the effort to curb waste along the entire food chain.
How do implicit/explicit attitudes and emotional reactions to sustainable logo relate? A neurophysiological study
Food package labels are used to influence consumers’ evaluation and purchasing behavior, fostering sustainable consumption. So, how do consumers emotionally react to food package labels that convey sustainable information? This study provides a better understanding of the relationship between consumers’ attitudes and emotional reactions often used to measure the effectiveness of communication. Our findings suggest that implicit attitudes influence both visual attention and emotional reactions.
From informational towards transformational advertising strategies? A content analysis of Belgian food magazine advertisements
Western (European) food advertisements published in Belgian food magazines were content analyzed to identify informational and transformational advertising appeals for healthy and unhealthy foods. The results of the content analysis indicated that healthy food advertisements in Belgium are mainly informational, whereas unhealthy food advertisements are mainly transformational. The contrasting transformational strategy of unhealthy-food advertisements can provide inspiration for healthy food advertisers to help increase healthy food consumption.
Look at that body! How anthropomorphic package shapes systematically appeal to consumers
How do anthropomorphized (food) packages elicit aesthetic appeal? We shed light on the effectiveness of applying evolutionary relevant shapes, which are figures of attractive female (hourglass-shaped) and male (V-shaped) bodies, to consumer goods’ package design.
Curbing portion size effects by adding smaller portions at the point of purchase
Point of purchase interventions may curb portion size effects and overconsumption by consumers. A field experiment with meat sausage as focal product determines whether adding smaller portion sizes to a retailer’s assortment unobtrusively encourages consumers to buy smaller portions. We find that adding smaller portions to a default choice architecture can nudge consumers towards buying smaller-sized items, which has important implications for retailers and public policymakers involved in promoting healthy and sustainable consumer behavior.
‘My lips are sealed’ - The impact of package resealability on the consumption of tempting foods
Resealable packages are omnipresent on store shelves. While the main advantage of the resealability feature is its ability to reclose the package in order to extend the shelf life of the food product inside, this study assesses whether this advantage also has implications for palatable, energy-dense food consumption. We provide intentional and behavioral evidence for the claim that consumers are better able to self-regulate their consumption and thus eat less on one occasion when a palatable, energy-dense food product is offered in a resealable (vs. unresealable) package. This research offers actionable insights for consumer welfare and public health care and aids manufacturers in defining optimal food packaging strategies.
Honey they shrank the food! An integrative study of the impact of food granularity and its operationalization mode on consumption
Larger portions of tempting food stimulate consumption, but does altering food granularity (dividing a fixed portion into more, smaller versus fewer, larger partitions) also drive consumption? This study introduces the operationalization mode of food granularity (partitioning vs. grouping) as a variable moderating the effect of food granularity (fine vs. coarse) on consumption. Consumers are expected to eat less when tempting foods are partitioned in more, smaller portions (as opposed to fewer, larger portions). However, consumers eat more when such tempting foods are grouped into more, smaller packages (as opposed to fewer, larger packages). These findings highlight that the manner used to divide tempting foods has important implications for consumption, which is relevant in light of the obesity epidemic.
Cross-national investigation of the drivers of obesity:
Re-assessment of past findings and avenues for the future
Do prior cross-national differences in food attitudes still exist? Due to societal evolutions such as sedentarism and globalization, international variations in food attitudes may not be as pronounced as currently believed. A cross-sectional web-based survey was carried out in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Belgium. To successfully combat obesity, a joint approach focusing on food choice and physical activity is required. We included behavioral measures by means of choice tasks for these two important drivers. Our findings indicate that having a higher interest in healthy eating decreases the chance of being overweight and believing that unhealthy food is tasty significantly increases the chance of being obese. Overall, food attitudes have largely converged across the investigated countries.
To squeeze or not to squeeze: How squeeze tubes affect consumers' serving sizes
Squeeze tubes increasingly complement traditional packaging. Do squeeze tubes - besides offering ease of use - also affect consumers' serving sizes? And if so, in what way? This study answers these questions. Three studies show that consumers use less of a product when it comes in a squeeze tube versus a traditional container. These findings have important implications for consumers, public policymakers, and product manufacturers.
The compelling urge to misbehave: Do impulse purchases instigate unethical consumer behavior?
This research explores the relationship between impulse buying and unethical consumer behavior. Three studies test the impact of impulse buying on different forms of unethical consumer behavior. The results confirmed that consumers making an impulse purchase were more likely to behave unethically than consumers making a regular purchase. These findings illustrate there is a dark side to impulse buying for retailers.
Clicks as a healthy alternative to bricks: How online grocery shopping reduces vice purchases
Although consumers are concerned about their health, obesity statistics suggest that contextual factors often lead them to choose unhealthy alternatives (vices) rather than healthy ones (virtues). With the increasing prevalence of online grocery shopping, the shopping channel is one of these contextual factors. How do food choices made online differ from food choices made in a traditional brick-and-mortar store? A database study and three lab experiments show that consumers choose relatively fewer vices in the online shopping environment. These findings highlight several unexplored differences between online and offline shopping, with important implications for consumers, public policymakers, and retailers.