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A recent study from HealthFocus International has found that nearly half (45 percent) of U.S. shoppers say food manufacturers should be required to disclose such information as calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium clearly on packaging labels. The top reason given by shoppers for wanting label information on food and beverage packages is so they can decide which products have too much of something they wish to avoid, primarily calories.
To help reduce the obesity rate and guide Americans to make healthier food choices, the FDA is looking into what the impact would be of front-of-pack (FOP) labeling for food and beverage containers. Some companies already feature such labels, although the information on them varies from product to product, causing confusion for shoppers. The rollout of the voluntary “Nutrition Keys” FOP labeling initiative by many consumer packaged goods companies may result in more uniform standards, however.
The institute of Medicine (IOM) examined the various types of information now shown on front-of-pack and made an October 2010 recommendation to the FDA that calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium should be clearly displayed on the front of food and beverage packages.
The HealthFocus International study also tested the effect of the IOM recommendation on shoppers' plans to buy alternative products. Results indicated that both better-for-you and indulgent categories could be affected by front-of-pack information. When shown packages with and without FOP labels, fewer shoppers said they’d buy products like frozen pizza when it had the label, while the purchase intent for some cookie brands actually rose. Purchase intent for pasta dropped with the FOP information. The study concluded that the impact can most clearly be seen on a product-by-product basis.
Obese shoppers were found not to have a greater interest in FOP labeling than other shoppers according to the study, although sixty percent of all shoppers say that they believe the labeling will help them to eat more healthfully. Further, obese shoppers actually read labels less often than average-weight shoppers (36 percent vs. 55 percent), and they say they’re less likely to pay attention to their diets (66 percent vs. 87 percent), so the overall impact of FOP labeling may be smaller on this group.
HealthFocus International, a division of Chicago-based Irwin Broh Research, specializes in understanding consumer attitudes toward health and nutrition and helping to apply those insights to brand development and innovation.