Functionally low-literate consumers' use of food labels in the rural area of Valspan in the Northern Cape of South Africa
Functionally low-literate consumers may often struggle to complete everyday adult tasks, such as reading food labels. Food labels are an important source of information for consumers, and assist them to make informed and wise food purchase decisions. However, the manner in which functionally low-literate consumers read, understand and apply this information to their decisionmaking, is different to literate consumers, and minimal research has been conducted regarding functionally low-literate consumers and their use of food labels in South Africa. This study was conducted in a predominantly low-literate and low-income rural area of Valspan, South Africa. Therefore, using food labels to make healthy and financially sound food choices may be considered especially important for this group of consumers. The current study served to conduct an in-depth literature review of functionally low-literate consumers' use of food labels in a rural area; explore whether and how functionally low-literate consumers use (read, understand and apply to decision-making) food label information; explore and describe the differences between the demographic characteristics of low-literate consumers and their use (reading, understanding and application) of food labels; make recommendations to educators on how functionally low-literate consumers can improve their use of food labels in a rural area; as well as to make recommendations on how food labels can be adapted to be more user-friendly to functionally low-literate consumers. Data was collected, using 292 interviewer administrated questionnaires, using purposive criterion sampling. The inclusion criteria for respondents were that they: had to be older than 18 years, living in Valspan and must have completed between grades 5 and 8 at school. Data analysis was done, using descriptive statistics, T-tests, ANOVA's, Spearman's rank order correlations and two-way frequency tables. Effect sizes were taken into consideration for all differences and associations. The results showed that respondents in this study did read food labels. They were also able to understand some simple aspects of the food label, but struggled with other aspects. When respondents struggled to understand food labels, they were selective about who they would ask to assist them, favouring the help of familiar family members and friends. Regarding the respondents' ability to apply food label information to their decision-making, respondents were able to identify several store logos, probably due to their tendency to pictorial thinking. Food-related calculations were relatively well completed; however, certain calculation-related terminology was not well understood by respondents. Food label symbols were not well identified, indicating that respondents did not have a good understanding of the meaning of these symbols. Literacy is vital to the use of food labels, as respondents who showed higher literacy levels showed a tendency towards better understanding of food label information, food label symbols and store logos. They also tended to be better equipped to correctly execute product-related calculations. Regarding demographics, respondents who spoke English and Afrikaans and who had a higher income had a tendency to better understand food label information, than respondents who spoke other languages and belonged to lower-income groups. If food labels are adapted, so that even low literate consumers are able to efficiently use food labels, they will be able to make informed and wise food product choices. This situation would be beneficial to low-literate and low-income consumers, marketers and retailers, as products with usable labels may consequently become the preferred choice of low-literate consumers and money wary low-income consumers. Additionally, marketers and retailers would be able to capitalise on the mass purchasing power that this target market represents.
- Health Sciences