The Fair Trade Effect: Health Halos From Social Ethics Claims

The authors provide evidence that social ethics claims on food packaging (e.g., fair trade) can promote the misperception that foods are lower-calorie and therefore appropriate for greater consumption. In Study 1, participants evaluating chocolate provided lower calorie judgments when it was described as fair trade—a claim silent on calorie content but signifying that trading partners received just compensation for their work. Further establishing this effect, Study 2 revealed that chocolate was perceived as lower-calorie when a company was simply described as treating its workers ethically (e.g., providing excellent wages and health care) as opposed to unethically (e.g., providing poor wages and no health care) among perceivers with strong ethical food values, consistent with halo logic. Moreover, calorie judgments mediated the same interaction pattern on recommendations of consumption frequency, suggesting that amid the ongoing obesity crisis, social ethics claims might nudge some perceivers to overindulge. Theoretical and applied implications are discussed.