Food nutrition labels fail to impress European consumers

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Less than one-third of European consumers look for nutrition labels when shopping, according to a new study by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) published in the Journal of Public Health.

The survey of consumers in the UK, Sweden, France, Germany, Poland and Hungary tested awareness of nutrition labels in six product categories: Breakfast cereals, soft drinks, confectionery, ready meals, salty snacks and yoghurts. Researchers recorded whether or not shoppers looked for nutritional information before selecting the product.

Only 16.8 per cent of shoppers searched for nutritional information and researchers found wide variations in different countries and product categories, one of the study leaders, Professor Klaus Grunert, of Aarhus University, Denmark, told

Of those who did look for information, the focus was on fat, calories, sugar and salt in the nutrition table and the Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) label.

Healthier products

But most consumers in all six countries were able to use GDAs to identify the healthier products, and most UK consumers could identify the healthier product regardless of the labeling system.

Across the categories, 17% of shoppers looked for nutrition information mainly on the nutrition table, GDA label or the ingredients list.

The researchers concluded: “….the low use of nutrition labeling could be explained by a lack of motivation among consumers to use the information rather than by their inability to understand and interpret the information​.”

Shoppers’ understanding of GDA labels was highest in the UK, Sweden and Germany, more limited in Hungary and Poland and questionable in France. Researchers attributed the high level of awareness in the UK to the prominence of nutritional issues, particularly nutrition labelling, in the public debate.

Age and social grade were also found to influence label awareness. Older shoppers tended to have more interest in healthy eating, but less nutrition knowledge.

Social grade appeared to have an influence on consumers’ ability to process nutritional information.

Labelling systems

Most consumers were able to make correct health inferences from nutrition labels with no major differences between the labeling systems such as Traffic Lights, GDAs and colour-coded GDAs.

Researchers’ in-store observations were followed by 11,800 in-store interviews on consumers’ purchase choices with 5,700 completing more detailed questionnaires.

Nutrition labelling is currently not required in the European Union unless a health or nutrition claim is made. But new legislation could make nutrition labelling mandatory, and may prescribe a specific format for front-of-pack nutrition labels.

Grunert concluded: “While there are several nutrition labelling schemes across Europe, our findings show that people recognise them and generally know how to use them to make informed nutrition choices. Nutrition labeling should be seen as a key element in a rounded public health strategy.”

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