New nutritional labelling regulation is currently making its way through the European law-making process which would make certain information mandatory on food and beverage panels, including levels of certain nutrients like fat, sugar, salt and calories.
Moreover, the new nutrition and health claims regulation allows for specific claims to be made, it the product meets conditions. For example, a ‘light’ claim can be made if the product contains 30 per cent less of a nutrient, such as fat or calories.
The ‘light’ claim the most widely used form of nutritional claim in Spain, but the team said that both nutritional panels and light claims are useful to manufacturers in differentiating their products.
They set out to assess how consumers value the different approached on food packages while shopping. Although they looked just at the Spanish market, and full EU-wide assessments would be advisable, their findings “have important implications for the European food industry and policy makers”.
The researchers used a choice modelling approach in their study, since the shopping context means consumers naturally have to make trade-offs between the products available.
The results, they say, “suggest that although consumers value both types of nutritional information, the nutritional facts panel label is valued more than a specific nutritional claim”.
“Specifically, using a choice experimental approach, consumers’ willingness to pay a premium is about twice as much more for a box of breakfast cookies with a nutrition label than for a box of breakfast cookies with a ‘light’ nutritional claim,” they wrote in the journal Food Quality and Preference.
However they also said that the presence of a well-known brand is valued more than health attributes when shopping – although health attributes are playing an increasing role.
Information or labelling of some kind is important because the health attributes of a food cannot be directly observed when shopping.
The researchers did not dismiss ‘light’ claims altogether, but concluded that “there is room for both types of nutritional labels given that they are shown as important determinants in consumers’ food choices”.
The findings should be tested in other European countries and using other food products, they said.
Food Quality and Preference 20 (2009) 463 – 471
Consumers’ valuation of nutritional information: A choice experiment study
Authors: Gracia, A; Loureiro, ML; Nayga, RM.