Consumers may check the calorie and fat content on the food labels but despite ongoing efforts in the food industry the consumer is still confused when reading the label.
According to the Nutrition Labelling Report from the UK Food Standards Agency released this week, consumers understand the term 'trace,' but get confused between the terms sodium and salt. In addition, although many do not understand what constitutes 'a portion,' they are more likely to check nutritional values 'per serving' than 'per 100g.'
The study, based on group and individual in-depth interviews, compared eight different specimen labels (including the current standard layout) to see which layouts were easiest to read and understand.
Consumer concerns over health and weight are clearly a top priority, as the research found that people generally check calories first and that fat content is also widely-checked.
Salt, as opposed to sodium, was the preferred labelling term. Although salt is regularly listed on labels and is useful for people with conditions such as high blood pressure who need to reduce their salt intake, sodium occurs in ingredients other than salt. Sodium bicarbonate, for example, is regularly added to bakery products, the FSA stressed.
The research found that consumers would value some reordering of important nutrients such as salt in food labels, and putting some in bold or in a separate text box, but this could risk downgrading the perceived value of others, particularly sugars. The study also found that people understood 'trace' meant a small amount. They felt that replacing it with '0' would be inaccurate and misleading.
The FSA reports that putting nutritional values as a percentage of Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs) only confuses people. But the research report found that people don't always check labels, particularly for items they buy regularly.
One woman shopper told the researchers: "I'm not going to stand there and read every single blooming label. I'm going to look at what's important like this (calories and fat) but not the rest of the stuff."
Of the eight specimen labels shown to consumers, the label that grouped together fat, saturates and salt (linked to coronary heart disease) was considered sensible.
The report will contribute to any future discussions in Brussels about nutritional labelling across the EC.