Taste rules over nutrition in UK food choices

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Nutrition

A new survey of UK consumers’ understanding of nutrition information on food labels found most had a good grasp of predominant front-of-pack schemes – but only 27 per cent used that info to inform their food choices.

Deciding on the best nutrition labelling scheme has been a contentious issue in Europe, as an all-EU system is anticipated in the new food information legislation. While the European food industry largely likes its guidance daily amounts scheme, others – such as traffic lights, Choices, and the Swedish keyhole – also have staunch supporters.

The new study, published in the journal Appetite​, was conducted by the Danish Aarhus University and the European Food Information Council with the cooperation of some major retailers.

The conclusion that the majority of consumers can decipher nutrition info from nutrition labels but base their purchasing decisions on taste considerations instead, reinforces the need to ensure that sensory properties of healthier food options are not overlooked.

But more than that, at a policy level the authors said there has been too much emphasis on choosing the right labelling scheme – and not enough on the motivating people to eat healthily. They say there is a need for a broader nutrition policy where labelling is just one of multiple instruments.

In order to prevent over-reporting of nutrition label use seen in previous research, the study was conducted in two parts: interviews and questionnaires, and in-store observations. From 2000 interviews the researchers, led by Prof Klaus Grunert, found that 88 per cent of consumers were correctly able to identify the healthiest ready meal of a selection using GDAs, 84 per cent using hybrid GDA-traffic lights, and 84 using traffic lights alone.

On a scale of 1-10 subjective understanding of the health info on labels was seen to be 7 for GDAs and 6.9 per traffic lights, leading Prof Grunert and co to conclude that the high level of understanding was independent of format.

Taste first

Despite the indication that consumers can glean nutrition info from labels, when the researchers turned their attention to actual​ practices they found that a product’s taste was by far the biggest preoccupation.

Only 27 per cent of consumers were seen to use the nutrition info on packs as a basis for their purchasing decision.

“Only when labelling policy is embedded in a broader nutrition policy that uses multiple instruments to increase interest in healthy eating can both understandability and use of nutrition information on food labels be expected to increase,”​ wrote Prof Grunert.

The UK study is part of a wider study of EU consumers’ attitudes to, and use of, food labelling info. Previous research has looked at understanding of labels in the UK, Sweden, France, Poland, Germany and Hungary. Interest in healthy eating was seen to vary between the countries.

Shift in positions and responsibilities

In the UK the preferred approach was traffic lights but the Food Standards Agency adjusted its approach after a combination scheme, using colours and GDAs, was seen as preferred by consumers in an earlier study. The new Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government in the UK has signalled a preference for GDAs – and responsibility for food labelling issues transferred from the FSA to government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as of 1 October.

Source:

Appetite 55(2):177-189
“Nutrition Knowledge, and use and understanding of nutrition information on food labels among consumers in the UK”

Grunert, K., Willis, J.M., Fernandez-Celemin L

Taste rules over nutrition in UK food choices

A new survey of UK consumers’ understanding of nutrition information on food labels found most had a good grasp of predominant front-of-pack schemes – but only 27 per cent used that info to inform their food choices.

Deciding on the best nutrition labelling scheme has been a contentious issue in Europe, as an all-EU system is anticipated in the new food information legislation. While the European food industry largely likes its guidance daily amounts scheme, others – such as traffic lights, Choices, and the Swedish keyhole – also have staunch supporters.

The new study, published in the journal Appetite​, was conducted by the Danish Aarhus University and the European Food Information Council with the cooperation of some major retailers.

The conclusion that the majority of consumers can decipher nutrition info from nutrition labels but base their purchasing decisions on taste considerations instead, reinforces the need to ensure that sensory properties of healthier food options are not overlooked.

But more than that, at a policy level the authors said there has been too much emphasis on choosing the right labelling scheme – and not enough on the motivating people to eat healthily. They say there is a need for a broader nutrition policy where labelling is just one of multiple instruments.

In order to prevent over-reporting of nutrition label use seen in previous research, the study was conducted in two parts: interviews and questionnaires, and in-store observations. From 2000 interviews the researchers, led by Prof Klaus Grunert, found that 88 per cent of consumers were correctly able to identify the healthiest ready meal of a selection using GDAs, 84 per cent using hybrid GDA-traffic lights, and 84 using traffic lights alone.

On a scale of 1-10 subjective understanding of the health info on labels was seen to be 7 for GDAs and 6.9 per traffic lights, leading Prof Grunert and co to conclude that the high level of understanding was independent of format.

Taste first

Despite the indication that consumers can glean nutrition info from labels, when the researchers turned their attention to actual​ practices they found that a product’s taste was by far the biggest preoccupation.

Only 27 per cent of consumers were seen to use the nutrition info on packs as a basis for their purchasing decision.

“Only when labelling policy is embedded in a broader nutrition policy that uses multiple instruments to increase interest in healthy eating can both understandability and use of nutrition information on food labels be expected to increase,”​ wrote Prof Grunert.

The UK study is part of a wider study of EU consumers’ attitudes to, and use of, food labelling info. Previous research has looked at understanding of labels in the UK, Sweden, France, Poland, Germany and Hungary. Interest in healthy eating was seen to vary between the countries.

Shift in positions and responsibilities

In the UK the preferred approach was traffic lights but the Food Standards Agency adjusted its approach after a combination scheme, using colours and GDAs, was seen as preferred by consumers in an earlier study. The new Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government in the UK has signalled a preference for GDAs – and responsibility for food labelling issues transferred from the FSA to government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as of 1 October.

Source:

Appetite 55(2):177-189
“Nutrition Knowledge, and use and understanding of nutrition information on food labels among consumers in the UK”

Grunert, K., Willis, J.M., Fernandez-Celemin L

Related topics: Science, Labelling

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