Oui differences in French health claims use
Chris Ryder, University of Reading
Earlier this year we ran focus groups with consumers and interviews with food manufacturers in France, Germany and Poland to discover how people in these countries approach health claims. Thanks to Covid-19, these had to be conducted online, but that didn’t stop us chatting to a lot of people and learning a lot about how differences in each culture affect the way that health claims are used and understood.
In France, it seems that there is a similar scepticism to the UK, with a lot of consumers believing that health claims are all about marketing and not really substantiated by any evidence. This is especially interesting when you consider that, according to the manufacturers, France is one of the places where regulatory bodies (such as the DGCCRF) are the most strict about health claim wording, so they can't use health claims as marketing strategies nearly as much as they do in the UK.
In fact, the authorities in France even go so far as to actively seek out violations, rather than waiting for a complaint to be made as in the UK. In France, although it is possible to change to wording a bit, generally manufacturers think it is "too risky" to do so. And yet the wording approved by the EU "just doesn’t talk to consumers" and is "just horrible!"
The unfortunate result of this is that a lot of manufacturers simply don't want to use health claims. In any case, differences in culture mean that a lot of French consumers aren't as interested in these claims in the first place: we learned that issues such as environmental impact and sustainability are far more important to consumers than nutrition and healthy eating. Eating food is much more linked to pleasure in France, so in some sense the science and nutrition aspects can get in the way!
On the other hand, it's easy to wonder if nutrition and healthy eating might be bigger points of interest in France if there were more flexibility with the wording of health claims so that consumers are more likely to understand and trust them. Our interactive website will soon be released in French, and we are looking forward to finding out what sorts of wordings consumers would prefer – watch this space!
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