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Remove the negatives or highlight the positives? The effect of negativity bias in food preferences

Ekaterina Salnikova (Management, Aarhus University, Copenhagen, Denmark)
John L. Stanton (Food Marketing, Saint Joseph's University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA)

British Food Journal

ISSN: 0007-070X

Article publication date: 11 March 2021

Issue publication date: 29 June 2021




The interest of food consumers in improved quality, healthiness, freshness, and authenticity results in a growing introduction of new food products featuring a variety of “positive” (e.g. “Enriched with Vitamin D”) and “negative” (e.g. “Low in Fat”) label claims. It's the goal of this paper to uncover how the presence of positive and absence of negative benefits or attributes balance in the minds of consumers, determine which label claims would have the greatest impact on consumers' intention to buy milk, and understand the role of stating these in either a positive or a negative frame.


To achieve the objectives of this paper, we utilize (1) descriptive study to identify which claims are currently used by the dairy marketing practitioners, (2) focus group to identify the importance of positive and negative product claims, and (3) online survey including discrete choice experiment (DCE) to determine the effect of positive and negative claims on consumer food choices.


We provide evidence of negative bias in consumers facing the choice between foods with enriched positive ingredients vs foods that are free-from negative ingredients. Specifically, we find that consumers have a general tendency toward giving negative attributes more weight than positive ones.

Research limitations/implications

The research was conducted in one food category.

Practical implications

This research should encourage food marketers to include more positive statements about their products rather than the current focus on negatives such as no GMOs or no hormones. the authors understand these negative attributes need to be made but there should also be positive attributes.

Social implications

Consumers will get a total picture of the product values and not skewed to one point.


The concept of negative bias has not be adequately explored in the food category on product labels.



Salnikova, E. and Stanton, J.L. (2021), "Remove the negatives or highlight the positives? The effect of negativity bias in food preferences", British Food Journal, Vol. 123 No. 7, pp. 2601-2616.



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