The study delves into the value of nutritional labels placed on the front of food containers. The research concluded robust front-of-package labeling significantly improved the ability to figure out and comprehend a food’s nutrition data, facilitated educated decisions about food buys, and reduced the need to pore over the more detailed Nutrition Facts label.
Consumers looked at four versions of the label, including one with no front-facing nutrition information, one with only calories, one with calories and nutrients to limit, and one with calories and nutrients to limit or encourage; all had access to the full Nutrition Facts panel. They had to identify nutrient amounts and percent daily values per serving in products, and to rate the ease of answering those identifying questions, then indicate which product out of a group they thought was the best nutritional choice.
Results indicated the more information given on the package front, the better consumers did at identifying and comprehending nutritional attributes of the food. Interestingly, those with lower education levels showed higher gains in informational value, which indicates a closing of the gap between those who understand labels and those of lower education levels.
Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice president for nutrition and food safety communications at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation and study co-author, spoke with FoodProductionDaily about the label study, and what it means for food firms and packaging companies.
Why is the evolution and increased prevalence of front-of-pack labelling a positive thing for food firms, and consumers?
The purpose of a front-of-package system, especially a fact-based one, is to help consumers quickly and easily compare products while shopping. From the study, consumers were more likely to identify correct answers to questions about nutrient content when the information was on the front of package even though they had access to the Nutrition Facts panel.
How exactly does front-of-pack labelling facilitate consumer comprehension of nutrition information?
The versions of the front-of-package system with more information tested in this study generally enabled grocery shoppers to demonstrate improved comprehension of nutrient content of food products tested. These more robust versions also increased ease of understanding nutrition information and assisted with interpreting nutrition information on the products included in the study “The US Dietary Guidelines” encourage nutrient-dense/-rich foods and identify which to limit.
A front-of-package labeling system on the product package should assist in communicating this information and more fully represent the nutrient contribution—not just nutrients to limit—of a food or beverage product. Nutrient-dense foods and beverages help consumers achieve healthful diets without over consuming energy.
When instructing clients with a high school education or less, front-of-package information is especially useful in improving understanding of nutrient information. Clients with higher education levels are likely to be able to accurately assess a product's nutritional value with or without additional front-of-package information.
However, having front-of-package information on food and beverage products facilitates product comparisons in an easy to understand manner.
Are there any findings in the front-of-pack study you find especially interesting?
The most significant finding was the improved comprehension and ease of understanding exhibited by those consumers with high school level or lower education. Generally, reading and understanding of labels is high with college-educated consumers so it was interesting that this labelling system showed the closing of the education gap.
Were there any surprises in the study?
Findings were consistent across the products tested and in some cases, comprehension of product information decreased when only calories and nutrients to limit were on the front of package.
Source: Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
Title: “The Impact of Variations in a Fact-Based Front-of-Package Nutrition Labeling System on Consumer Comprehension”
Authors: Marianne Smith Edge, Constance J. Geiger, Wendy Reinhardt Kapsak, Cheryl Toner