Combining label types could be beneficial for consumers, study suggests

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Using a combination of GDA labelling and health logos could help consumers to understand the nutritional content and health implications of food products, say researchers.

The suggestions come after research published in Appetite​ aimed to produce a framework for the way consumers view different types of labels.

“We wanted to get a sense of how consumers viewed the world of labelling. And how they might view the things they come across on label,”​ explained Dr Monique Raats, senior researcher on the project.

Raats told us that her study, which forms part of the FLABEL project, aimed to find a new way of classifying pieces of information that consumers come across on food label, “one that really came from consumers. That was the starting point.”

“The labelling literature and the labelling debate is quite entrenched in putting different labelling systems up against each other. So we have a lot of discussion about GDAs versus traffic lights – for example,” ​said Raats. “What we were interested in was finding out how consumers would describe the differences and similarities between all of the things that they might come across on labels that are there to communicate to them about health.”

Raats said the really key finding of the study was that consumers recognised certain forms of information were more ‘directive’ than other forms – meaning that meaning that ‘directive’ labels told them what to do in terms of health.

“So, for example a logo system is very directive. It tells you at the level of the food that this product is healthy,” ​she said. “Then there are the GDA systems that are not directive because they do not tell you if something is healthy or not – they just provide you with a range of information about nutrients and it is up to you to make that judgement."

Better understanding

“The starting point was to collect a selection of information on labels that people come across,” said Raats. “We tried to get a wide selection of labels, so we trawled was out there in Europe and found that was quite wide ranging.”

“We chose things from the basic nutrition information that appears in different forms in panels, through to some of the logo schemes that exist … and nutrition claims as well.”

The researchers asked groups of consumers in a number of to sort the wide selection of labels they had gathered into labels into piles, “and then explain to us what the reason was that they put things into piles.”

“One interesting thing was that we saw very similar patterns across Europe – even though if you look at the labelling environment in Europe, its actually quite different in different countries.

“[But] the really key thing was that people recognised that certain forms of information were more directive than other forms,”​ said the researcher. “Something like a GDA doesn’t direct you to what decision you might want to make if you need help making a decision as to whether that product is healthy or not. But a logo will do that job.”

Raats said it would be ‘interesting’ to look at combinations of directive and semi-directive labelling: “That’s something that isn’t on the market at the minute, because countries that tend to have logos do not use traffic lights, and visa-versa for those who use traffic lights.”

“Those two parts of the spectrum do different jobs. And that’s where we hoped that producing this framework for classifying different types of information might be helpful.”

Related topics: Labelling, Science

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