Too many labels cause information overload for consumers

Dive Brief:

  • The International Food Information Council Foundation’s (IFIC) 2017 Food and Health Survey said conflicting information about nutrition and the products that should be avoided is making people skeptical about the choices they make, according to Food Business News.
  • The survey reveals a majority of people look at labels for the health benefits the products offer, but fewer than 50% are unable to pick out those nutrients. 
  • Consumers for the most part are interested in obtaining energy benefits from their food and beverage choices; however, less than 5% could name caffeine as providing the benefits.

Dive Insight:

In 2016, a revamped Nutrition Facts Panel was released with designs to better highlight some of the ingredients that consumers are buying, but even though things are clearer on the labels, there’s still much confusion about the health benefits. People are just overwhelmed by conflicting food and nutrition information. It also doesn't help that an ingredient can be good for you one day, and unhealthy the next.

While surveys show people appreciate the extra information and clearer explanations, many consumers still don’t understand what things mean. A new proposed label highlights the calorie count on products, both enlarging it and bold-facing it. The survey showed 77% of respondents said they rely on friends and family for both nutrition and food safety information, but that’s not always the smartest way to learn the truth.

Some manufacturers are using their social media pages to better educate consumers about what’s in their products. Others are including more information in their marketing campaigns. Compounding the problem is that many consumers perceive what is healthy and unhealthy in different ways. In many cases, shoppers associate where they buy a product with its perceived healthiness, such as a convenience store versus a health food store. This only adds to the confusion. The Grocery Manufacturers Association has tried to help with a SmartLabel where consumers can scan a growing number of product to find out information such as calories, saturated fats and sugars.

Regulators at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration are trying to clear up at least some of the confusion when it comes to terms such as healthy. In March, the FDA heard many of the complexities behind an outdated definition for healthy at a pubic hearing. The agency defined healthy for use on food labels in 1994. But as Kind Snacks found out when it got a warning notice from the FDA two years ago over the amount of saturated fat in several of its bars, that definition is a bit outdated.

Shoppers have certain expectations for claims like "natural" and "healthy," terms that don't always have officially regulated definitions. As consumers flock to healthier, less processed foods, labels will be a major part of that migration. As this study indicates, more needs to be done to help confused shoppers.

Follow on Twitter

Filed Under: Manufacturing Corporate Packaging / Labeling
Top image credit: Real Dietitian