Consumers struggle to shop for healthy food, survey says
- The International Food Information Council Foundation and the American Heart Association reported in a study sent to Food Dive that 95% of Americans say that they always or sometimes look for healthy options when food shopping. Only 28%, however, say that information is easy to find.
- The study also showed that 69% of those surveyed said the Nutrition Facts panel was the top source to get information about healthfulness, while 67% said they relied on the ingredients list.
- About 54% of consumers agreed that a label change to "healthy" symbols would help them choose the products they want more easily. The research was conducted with 1,017 respondents from Generation Z to baby boomers (ages 18-80) who participated in grocery shopping for their household.
Labels have become the new business cards for companies who are striving to cater to consumer demands for transparency and health in their products. But as companies continue to add information to packaging, it seems to be making it more difficult for consumers to glean relevant information.
According to the IFIC study, 54% of consumers surveyed noted that additional symbols to indicate the healthfulness of products would be useful in their supermarket search for better-for-you products. But other studies have shown that although a graphical approach seems logical, only certain label claims, mostly nutrition and health-related ones, elicited responses from consumers. In fact, when it comes to ideological claims, according to QuadPackaging and Package Insight, 40% of shoppers claimed that sustainability influenced their purchases, but 92% didn't notice sustainability logos on food packaging.
So where are consumers looking? The nutrition label. This tried and true source of information seems to serve the vast majority of consumers looking to determine if a food is good for them. The IFIC study showed that consumers looked for words like ingredients, calorie content, sugar content and fat content when determining the health of a product. Interestingly, those happen to be the words set to take center stage on the new 2020 nutrition label updates. The Nutrition Facts label hasn't seen many updates since it was first put into place in 1990, but within the next two years companies will be required by the FDA to make a complex transition that includes recalculating serving sizes, switching to a standardized size for the package, figuring out new facts such as the amount of added sugars, taking a new look at dietary fibers, adding vitamin D and potassium and dropping vitamins A and C.
While these new updates will address some of the questions the IFIC study shows consumers have, it will not aid in the overall label literacy problem that is plaguing the industry. According to data from Label Insight, 67% of consumers find it challenging to understand if a product meets their needs just by looking at a package. Nearly half claim they aren't informed after reading a product label.
A recent effort to translate labels into plain English was the Grocery Manufacturers Association's SmartLabel Initiative where customers scanned a QR code that would provide them with more in-depth information on a product. Unfortunately, a mandated study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in August 2017 found that many shoppers weren't aware QR codes on food packages could contain useful product information. The IFIC study confirms this and found that only 17% of shoppers use their phone to look up information, not nearly enough for a digital solution to be effective.
So where does this leave the industry? They are going to need to address label literacy on the packaging. With changes including a new law that will require labeling of GMO ingredients in all products and the federal government poised to redefine terms including "healthy" and "natural," there will likely need to be some industry consensus on how to convey this information to the consumer without overwhelming the packaging with graphics. Even if a solution is developed, companies will need to consider publicizing efforts to ensure the changes are understood by consumers.