Claims or pictures - what makes shoppers choose healthier options?

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT

The role of on-pack health claims, images, information on how food is processed, health logos and nutritional labelling on the perceived healthiness of a food product has never been systematically evaluated but a new project, if funding is secured, could address that gap.

Speaking to this morning, Professor Klaus Grunert, of Aarhus University in Denmark, said that following on from the success of a nutritional labelling project that he led, his team is now seeking backing for a more detailed take on how consumers interact with every aspect of food packaging.

Funding, confirmation of which is expected in the next two months, has been sought under the European Community's Seventh Framework Programme. The duration of the research project would typically be three years.

“This interplay of all the information contained on a food pack and consumer decision-making around healthier dietary choices has never been studied in a comprehensive fashion,”​ explained Grunert, who was scientific advisor to the labelling research initiative, FLABEL that concluded today.

One of the key findings of FLABEL, said the academic, was that a health logo such as the Dutch Choices trademark or the Swedish keyhole symbol can increase attention to, and use of, nutrition information on food labels, especially when the consumer is under time pressure.

And this factor was critical in prompting the Danish researcher to seek funding for an additional assessment of the overall impact of these logos when combined with other data such as health claims and pictures, in tandem with nutrient data.

The FLABEL research, which involved a consortium of academics, retailers and NGOs, shows the most promising option for increasing consumers’ attention to, and use of, nutrition information on food labels, is to provide information on key nutrients and energy on the front of the pack, in a reliable way.

“We recommend that the industry uses a consistent list of nutrients, with the same font and the same colour scheme in the lower left hand corner of the front of the product, regardless of food or drink category.

A shopping task we set consumers in leading retailers showed when this system was used in combination with a health logo across a broad range of products, consumers’ focus on the nutritional information increased by 300% over existing on-pack nutritional information formats.”

And Grunert claims the research findings show that the long-standing argument over whether a system such as traffic light labelling is more effective than Guideline Dietary Allowances (GDA) at encouraging consumers to make healthier food choices is really rather redundant:

“The use of colour coding can increase attention and use in certain situations, although the effects of both are not strong.Such formats such as GDA or traffic light labelling are not as important, we found, as lack of motivation, and this mindset is, unfortunately, not solved by nutritional labelling alone.”

And the Danish researcher said that a key challenge for that research project and any additional EU-wide studies on food packaging’s influence on consumer shopping choices and policy developments to boost levels of nutritional intake across the block is the inconsistency in nutritional knowledge among consumers in the various member states.

Related topics: Market Trends

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