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Consumers Flummoxed by Food Labeling ‘Facts,’ Study Shows

Written by Robert Brice
June 9, 2017

Consumers are finding food choices difficult due to conflicting health information, according to recent polling.

Consumers are finding food choices difficult due to conflicting health information, according to recent polling.

To maintain or improve one’s health and well-being, experts agree that it requires two things: regular exercise and a well-balanced diet. The packaged good industry attempts to help consumers achieve the latter, providing specific details about nutritional facts and bold, easy-to-read labeling that highlight nutritious vitamins and minerals. Though this is a task of grocery store managers, it starts early on in the food distribution process.

But as food shoppers attempt to stave off the battle of the bulge and supply their families with smart food choices, they’re having trouble discerning what’s healthy and unhealthy due to mixed messages, a recent poll suggests.

More than two-thirds of consumers – 67 percent – say it’s hard for them to figure out what foods are best for them to eat based solely on what they read about them in grocery store aisles, a survey conducted by Label Insight found. It’s a frustrating problem for the calorie conscious, especially considering that 75 percent of consumers avoid eating certain ingredients, according to the poll’s findings. Intolerance to certain preservatives or ingredients make quality control a major issue for manufacturers and warehouse managers, needing to make sure similar looking shelf staples are easily distinguishable and don’t wind up in places they shouldn’t be.

15 Million Americans Have Food Allergies

Food allergies are rather common these days. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, an estimated 15 million Americans are allergic to certain ingredients, some of the most common being gluten, lactose and peanuts, among others. Food allergies in children have risen substantially, up 50 percent since 1997, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Patrick Moorhead, Label Insight chief marketing officer, indicated that the word “healthy” is a relative term, but effective labeling helps consumers discern what is and isn’t good for them to consume.

“Consumers … want more detailed ingredient information,” Moorhead explained. “Today’s product packaging is not meeting those needs.”

Over 55 Percent of Consumers Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup

Of course, dietary restrictions aren’t the only reasons why consumers peruse labels as often as they do. They also read them to steer clear of ingredients based on health experts’ recommendations. For example, 56 percent of respondents in the poll said they try to avoid eating foods or drinks with high fructose corn syrup, a sweetener often used in place of sugar. Additionally, more than 35 percent avoid preservatives, which enhances shelf-life. A similar percentage also shy away from artificial flavors and colors. The consumer packaged goods industry will often use food traceability software to ensure products are appropriately labeled for consumers’ expediency.

But even when product packaging is as it should be – clear and concise – consumers say they’re getting mixed messages from the health and wellness world. Almost 80 percent of consumers in a separate poll said they frequently encounter conflicting information about what they should and shouldn’t eat, according to a study done by the International Food Information Council Foundation. It’s a frustrating for the 96 percent of grocery shoppers who are mindful of what the foods they buy contain.

Joseph Clayton, CEO for the IFIC Foundation, noted how many consumers are suffering from so-called “information overload.”

“We’re finding troubling signs that the information glut is translating into faulty decisions about our diets and health,” Clayton said.

He added that policymakers and federal organizations, like the Food and Drug Administration, need to work to revise nutrition facts so that they’re simpler to understand. But the food industry has some skin in the game as well, according to Label Insights CEO Moorhead.

“Keeping pace with consumers’ increasing demand for product transparency is one of the most challenging issues facing the food and beverage industry today,” Moorhead said.

The health decisions that consumers make are theirs to determine, but the consumer packaged goods industry can make them more straightforward with a comprehensive automated data collection system in place. RFgen’s enterprise mobile solutions provide food manufacturers and packaged goods firms with the inventory management tools they need to achieve compliance and satisfy consumers who have come to expect readily available information. Customer-driven labeling and bundling keeps the supply chain in perpetual motion.