The FLABEL project – Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life – is a three-year, EU-funded project set up to build understanding of how labelling information affects consumers’ food choices and habits.
The information included on labels is a hot topic right now, as new European legislation that aims to unify labelling systems across the bloc is working its way through the law-making channels.
The new survey showed overall good penetration of nutrition labelling practices. Indeed, the organisation said they were “higher than previously reported” even though nutrition info is, for now, voluntary in Europe (except when nutritional claims are made).
FLABEL said the findings will prove helpful in the next phase of its work, which will involve attention, reading, liking, understanding and use of labelling formats by consumers.
However some variation between countries was identified. For instance, in Cyprus and Slovenia 70 per cent of products gave nutritional info back-of-pack, compared to 95 per cent in the UK, Ireland and The Netherlands.
The FLABEL researchers looked at products in three different kinds of retail stores: major players ranking amongst the top5; consumer cooperatives or national retailers; and discounters. Overall, some 50 retailers were involved.
The team also looked at a spectrum of different product types: sweet biscuits, breakfast cereals, ready meals, carbonated soft drinks and yogurts.
Of these, the breakfast cereals category was seen to make most use of nutritional info, with back of pack info on some 94 per cent of products and front-of-pack info on 70 per cent.
The researchers also looked at the presentation of the information. By far the most common format was tabular or linear listing on the back of back. Calories, protein, carbohydrates and fat values tended to be given, and in some cases lists were extended to give sugar, saturated fat, fibre and sodium as well.
As for information on front-of-pack, the two most common formats were nutrition claims and guidance daily amounts – the scheme developed by the food industry to give values as a percentage of recommended maximums for an average woman.
FLABEL’s first set of findings takes up the baton from EUFIC, which published the results of its EU-wide survey on consumer labelling last year.
This survey questioned around 17,300 consumers in six EU countries – France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden and the UK – each of which uses a different nutritional labelling system.
The researchers reported high levels of awareness of GDA: generally, over 50 per cent of respondents in each country had heard of it. Moreover, consumers were generally familiar with the labelling system used in their own country.
Professor Klaus Grunert, who conducted the study for EUFIC, told FoodNavigator.com in a recent podcast interview that “consumer have little problem understanding those labelling formats we currently have, such as GDAs and traffic lights.”
“If you ask people to use that information to rank products in terms of healthiness, most people are able to do that. But actual use in the shop is relatively low,” he added.
“One unresolved question is whether these labels have any impact on the choices people make.”