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Citation Information

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Magister Scientiae in Consumer Science
Title Functionally low-literate consumers’ use of food labels in the rural area of Valspan in the Northern Cape of South Africa
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2014
URL http://dspace.nwu.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10394/13336/Irvine_F.pdf?sequence=1
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 iii
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 lowliterate
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.

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