New study reveals high awareness and good understanding of nutrition labelling schemes in the UK but a lower use of labels in supermarkets
Brussels, 25 September 2008: Despite UK shoppers being six times more likely to look at the front rather than the back of pack and 80% being aware of Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) and Traffic Light (TL) labelling schemes, new research from the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) shows that only one in four shoppers actually looked for nutrition information on food packaging in supermarkets.
The research, conducted in three UK supermarket chains with different labelling schemes (ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco), offers insight into how this information is used in real life shopping situations and is the first part of a broader study in six EU countries.
Consumers’ nutrition knowledge has areas of strength and weakness; for example more than 90% correctly know that they should eat more fruit and vegetables, fibre and whole grains. In contrast, starchy foods such as bread, rice, pasta and potatoes are less understood, with only 5% of consumers correctly answering that they should eat a lot of these types of foods.
Consumers see calories as a hurdle that is difficult to overcome. Although the calorific content of foods is generally understood, calorie needs are under-estimated while the amount of physical activity required to burn off calories is over-estimated by the majority of consumers. Of concern is that 35% of consumers think children need more calories than an adult man, raising public health questions about over-feeding with respect to childhood obesity.
UK consumers spend on average 25 seconds in making a food product purchase decision. The type of product being purchased has an impact:; most time is spent looking at ready-meals and least time is spent on carbonated soft drinks.
Awareness is high for both Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) and Traffic Light (TL) labelling systems. 79% of the consumers have heard of GDAs and TLs while 90% of consumers say they have seen the GDA system before. Understanding of the GDA concept is good, with 89% of consumers correctly defining a guideline daily amount as a maximum rather than a target to reach. The answers reflect good understanding of absolute numbers, percentages, and guideline daily amounts.
Understanding of the Traffic Light concept is characterised by some exaggeration of the meaning of the colours and a lack of understanding that the system is applied per 100g. 73% of consumers thought red indicated avoidance rather than correctly answering that “it is fine to have the product occasionally or as a treat.”
For the hybrid Guideline Daily Amount/Traffic Light system, less than 15% of consumers stated that the colour-coding and interpretive elements (high, medium, low) were helpful for indicating healthiness of a food product.
More than 70% of consumers could rank products correctly in terms of healthiness regardless of labelling system. The ability to answer correctly was related to age, nutritional knowledge, social grade – but even in the lowest group around half of the respondents could provide the correct answer.
- Ends -
Listen to the findings
The results are part of a broader pan-European study that is nearing completion. To listen to Professor Klaus Grunert of Aarhus School of Business, Denmark and Dr Josephine Wills, Director General of EUFIC, presenting the UK results, please click here.
About the EUFIC research
The research has been conducted as part of EUFIC’s commitment to the European Commission’s EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity & Health.
- Total sample size 2019 across three retailers with 921 returned, completed in-home questionnaires.
- The study was incentivised, with a combination of in-store observation in six product categories (salty snacks, soft drinks, yoghurts, breakfast cereals, ready meals, confectionery) and interview, with a longer self-complete questionnaire filled in at home.
- Three types of front of pack nutrition labelling schemes were tested: Guideline Daily Amounts, Traffic Lights & GDA/TL Hybrid
- During the research design phase, the methodology was shared with key interest groups including academic public health experts and leading NGO representatives.
UK, France, Germany, Sweden, Poland and Hungary