The impact of traffic light color-coding on food health perceptions and choice

Remi Trudel, Kyle B. Murray, Soyoung Kim, Shuo Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Government regulators and consumer packaged goods companies around the world struggle with methods to help consumers make better nutritional decisions. In this research we find that, depending on the consumer, a traffic light color-coding (TLC) approach to product labeling can have a substantial impact on perceptions of foods' health quality and food choice. Across 3 lab experiments and a field experiment, we find that TLC labels provide nondieters with an information processing cue that directly influences evaluations in a manner that is consistent with the "stop" and "go" logic behind the traffic light labels. In contrast, we find that dieters do not simply adopt the red, yellow, and green cues into their health quality evaluations. Instead, regardless of the color, the TLC approach increases the depth at which dieters process label information. Dieters tend to focus on the costs of consumption and, as a result, lower their health quality evaluations. In a field study, measuring actual behavior in a grocery store, health quality evaluations predicted consumption and consistent with the color coding of the labels nondieters consumed the most when they were presented with a predominantly green label.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-275
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Applied
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Health
  • Information processing
  • Label
  • Nutrition
  • Public policy

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