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Darla Moore School of Business

Marketing professor publishes research about health benefits of front food labels, studies impact of tweets in political campaigns

Nov. 11, 2020

Moore School marketing professor will publish a scholarly article in the American Marketing Association’s November issue of Journal of Marketing exploring how adoption of nutrition labels to the front of product packages affects the nutritional quality of food.

Janakiraman worked with co-authors Joon Ho Lim, an Illinois State University marketing assistant professor, Rishika Rishika, a North Carolina State University marketing associate professor, and P.K. Kannan, the University of Maryland Dean’s Chair in marketing science. Focused on a comprehensive data collection, the research team examined 21,096 products, 9,083 brands and 4,408 firms across 44 food and beverage categories over a 16-year timespan.

They focused on a class of “Facts Up Front” front-of-package (FOP)nutrition labels that present a standardized and neutral form of key nutrient information on the front of the package with clear and easy-to-read icons, Janakiraman said.  

Their study determined a clear impact of adoption of front-of-package labels on the nutritional content of products.

“From the consumers’ perspective, products with [FOP] labels have improved nutritional quality. The improvement is greater in unhealthy product categories,” Janakiraman said. “From food manufacturers’ perspective, we find that premium brands and brands with narrower product lines improved their nutritional quality more.”

“Our analyses suggest that across all of the food categories in which at least some products adopted the [front of package] labels, there was a 12.5 percent reduction in calories; 12.9 percent reduction in saturated fat; 12.6 percent reduction in sugar; and 3.7 percent reduction in sodium,” in regards to nutrients consumers should limit for health reasons, Janakiraman said.

Janakiraman said other studies have suggested that mandatory nutrition labels displayed on the back or side of food packages can be difficult to read or understand.

Front-of-package labels present the nutrition facts panel in a more concise manner and often include caloric content and the key nutrients a healthy individual should limit, namely saturated fat, sugar and sodium per serving.

Janakiraman and his research team proposed that “adoption of voluntary [FOP] nutrition labels by a brand in a category can put pressure on competing brands and spur the competing brands to be innovative and actually improve the nutrition of their products,” he said.

The researchers’ massive data collection method and their findings are important because more than 30 percent of U.S. adults are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In recent years, “the rates of diet-related chronic diseases have skyrocketed, which in turn poses a significant economic and health burden on the U.S. economy,” Janakiraman said. “To combat this disconcerting trend, policy makers and food manufacturers have made efforts over time to design nutrition labels that can educate consumers about the nutritional value of the foods they purchase and help consumers make healthier choices.”

One voluntary initiative undertaken by food manufacturers is the Front-of-Package nutrition label.

Janakiraman and his colleagues produced four findings from their extensive review of 16 years of Front-of-Package food labels:

  1. Adoption of Front-of-Package nutrition labeling in a product category results in significant improvement in the nutritional quality of food products in that category.
  2. The effect of Front-of-Package labels is stronger for premium or high-priced brands and brands with a narrower produce line breadth.
  3. The Front-of-Package adoption effect is stronger for unhealthy categories and categories with a higher competitive intensity.
  4. Manufacturers increase the nutritional quality of products by reducing calorie content and limiting “unhealthy” nutrients like sugar, sodium and saturated fat.


Examining the impact of positive and negative tweets in political campaigns

In addition to the research encompassing front-of-package marketing, Janakiraman is working through formal approval channels for a forthcoming research study on the differing impacts of positive- versus negative-toned tweets by political candidates and their impact on audience engagement.

“Human brands are individuals who market and promote themselves to their target audience. Political candidates are human brands who use social media extensively to directly connect, communicate and engage with their constituents,” Janakiraman said.

“Unlike firms and traditional brands, human brands, especially political candidates, can often post tweets with varying tone, which can elicit a differential response from their fans and followers. Political candidates post both positive-toned tweets to promote their manifesto, agenda and ideas on various topics to their constituents and negative-toned content to attack their opponents and policies offered by their opponents.”

Janakiraman and his colleagues collected and analyzed tweets posted before the 2014 general election in India, which was dubbed India’s “first social media election,” because social media was a popular way for political candidates to communicate with constituents.

The research team found that tweets with a more negative tone by an individual political candidate results in greater engagement, as measured by number of retweets, for the candidate as compared to positively toned tweets.

“So negative-toned tweets can be more appealing” for audience engagement, Janakiraman said.

However, negative-toned tweets by a focal candidate can backfire and result in lower social media engagement if other candidates of a political party post positive tweets, Janakiraman added.  

“Engagement by audience is the greatest when both a focal candidate and the other candidates of a party post positive-toned tweets,” he said. “We refer to this as a ‘reinforcement effect,’ and a political party benefits the most when all political candidates use social media to post positively toned tweets.”

Focusing his research on data science and business analytics, Janakiraman said he is interested in helping firms and policy makers extract information from data that they can use for decision-making.

“Data is the new gold, and my research relies on various advanced data science tools to mine through data to convert data into information for firms and insights for policy makers,” he said.

While collecting and storing data has become easier with advancing technology, data is only useful when it can be transformed and interpreted to inform decision-making, Janakiraman added. Janakiraman teaches analytics courses at the Moore School of Business that help students learn advanced techniques involved in converting data to actionable insights.

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