- Over half of Americans say that front-of-package (FOP) labels impact their food and beverage purchases; a quarter consider this impact significant.
- Nutrition Facts highlights and ingredient-specific FOP labels are the most frequently considered and easily understood, while third-party certifications rank low in understandability but high in trust.
- Most people – 57%, reported that they are more likely to review FOP labels when considering a new or unfamiliar product.
- The most attention is paid to FOP labels when it comes to 100% fruit and vegetable juices, dairy and breakfast cereals.
Imagine that you’re standing in an aisle of a grocery store. You’re tasked with choosing a product only based on the information communicated on the front of the package. Simple, right? Well, it turns out there is a lot that can be said about one product on its packaging, ranging from specific nutrient content to allergen information – and it can be a lot to take in.
New IFIC research, “Knowledge, Understanding and Use of Front-of-Package Labeling in Food and Beverage Decisions: Insights from Shoppers in the U.S.,” aimed to learn more about consumer perspectives on FOP nutritional labeling, including what we know, how this knowledge is applied in shopping decisions, points of confusion and opportunities for improving food labeling for the benefit of the consumer.
Most Americans say that FOP labels influence their food purchasing decisions. The vast majority of survey takers (94%) were familiar with at least one FOP label; over half (54%) say that FOP labels impact food and beverage purchases, and about a quarter (24%) say that they have a significant impact. Consumers under age 50, those with higher incomes, parents with children under 18 and those already in better overall health are more likely to consider FOP labels to be impactful. However, the impact of FOP labels trails slightly behind portion size, the Nutrition Facts label, and the ingredient list.
Nutrition Facts highlights and ingredient-specific FOP labels are the most frequently considered and easily understood, while third-party certifications rank low in understandability but high in trust. The FOP labels that are always or often considered are Nutrition Facts highlights (45% always/often considered) and ingredient-specific labels that identify ingredients that are included or excluded (41%). Similarly, the FOP labels that are easiest to understand are the Nutrition Facts highlights (74%) and ingredient-specific labels (73%).
Third-party certifications such as “USDA organic,” are the second-most recognized type of FOP label, the third-most considered label and the second-most trusted. Clearly these endorsements are impactful, especially when they come from organizations that are well known and considered reputable. Despite this impact, third-party certification labels rank second to last in terms of their understandability.
When it comes to who Americans trust, the majority would trust a claim or label endorsed by a health-focused organization (92%) and 90% would trust a claim or label by the U.S. government; there is also a significant level of trust for claims from food companies (81%).
Among those who consider FOP labels, the amount of attention they pay can vary depending on a few different factors. Over half (57%) say that they are more likely to pay attention to the labels or claims on new or unfamiliar products, and those in excellent or very good health were more likely to say that this compared to their counterparts. When it comes to particular foods, the most attention to FOP nutritional labels and claims is paid when looking for 100% fruit and vegetable juices (55%), dairy (53%) and breakfast cereals (52%). Meanwhile, this attention is less common when it comes to sweet treats and other sweetened products.
The type of shopping experience also plays a major role; nearly twice as many consumers say that they review these labels when shopping in person (59%) than when shopping online (31%).
Although Americans are split in their labeling preferences, most agree that consistency is key. The majority (67%) believe that product packaging contains the right amount of information but are fairly split when it comes to their specific labeling preferences around the healthfulness of a product. Thirty-one percent would prefer multiple symbols or graphics that highlight specific nutrition facts, while 25% prefer a single symbol that indicates a product is a healthy choice. Fewer – just 9%, say that they would prefer a single symbol that indicates a product is unhealthy.
Regardless of these preferences, there is a consensus around consistency in the way FOP labels are presented. More than half (52%) said that they were extremely or very interested in having nutritional information presented in a consistent way on the front of all food and beverage packaging; 71% agree that it would be easier to make healthy choices if FOP nutrition information was presented in a consistent way.
Results were derived from an online survey of 1,002 Americans ages 18 to 80. Fielding took place between June 24 to July 8, 2021, using Dynata’s consumer panel. The results were weighted to ensure that they are reflective of the American population ages 18 to 80, as seen in the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020 Current Population Survey. Specifically, they were weighted by age, education, gender, race/ethnicity, and region.