- Products that display nutritional information on the front of packages can push the whole category to improve its nutritional quality, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing. During 16 years, the study looked at 21,096 products in the U.S. from more than 9,000 brands in 44 categories.
- The research found the food categories they looked at with front labels had 12.5% less calories, a 12.9% cut in saturated fat, 12.6% less sugar and a 3.7% reduction in sodium, Food Navigator reported.
- More companies could look to implement these labels as consumers reach for healthier products. As a result of the studies showing the effectiveness of these labels, Vital Strategies and the Global Food Research Program at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill released a Guide to Introducing Effective Front-of-Package Nutrient Labels to help countries adopt these warning labels, which they say is a "cost-effective, high impact strategy to combat obesity."
The pandemic has accelerated interest and demand for better-for-you products, including healthier snacks and immunity-boosting brands. At a time when health is top of mind for many, more manufacturers may be looking to introduce healthier products into their portfolios. Front-of-pack nutrition labeling is a way to show them off.
The new guide says consumers typically take less than 10 seconds to choose grocery items, so they need access to clear information to decide what is healthy. Food packaging is "a highly effective means of communication with consumers at the point of decision-making and purchase," the guide says.
In the study, researchers found front-of-package labeling led to the most improved nutritional quality for premium brands as well as products that tend to be less healthy, like snacks.
Front-of-pack labeling is not a new concept, and many have pushed for more of it to be required in the U.S. Two years ago, the American Medical Association asked the FDA to adopt front-of-package warning labels for foods with high levels of added sugars. And earlier this year, the Sugar Association asked the FDA to require that all kid-targeted items with alternative sweeteners indicate the type and amount on the front of food packages.
The Consumer Brands Association leads the voluntary Facts Up Front intitative, developed through former First Lady Michelle Obama's efforts to push the industry to provide consumers with more information for a healthier diet. As consumer trends continue to shift toward health and wellness, front-of-pack labeling has the potential to become more widespread.
Other countries have implemented front-of-pack nutrition labels on more unhealthy food and beverage products. About 36 countries have voluntary or mandatory labels on packaged food and they can be effective, according to UNC. For example, a study published last year reported Chile's front-of-pack nutrition label regulations on sugary beverages reduced consumption by almost 25% in 18 months.
The guide to implement front-of-pack nutrition labeling said that the push to combat obesity and improve nutrition is "more urgent than ever." Researchers recently reported obese people have a 48% higher risk of dying from COVID-19 and more than 2 billion people worldwide are obese. The food industry has long been criticized for its role in enabling obesity. One recent report found that Big Food is using the pandemic to push more unhealthy food. As criticism of industry continues and health concerns rise, more consumers will likely be demanding transparency from their food.
"If people understand upfront, right in the grocery aisle, how certain foods impact health, they will be much more likely to make healthier choices," Barry Popkin, professor of nutrition at UNC, said in a release.