Less than half of consumers read nutrition facts labels


Nearly 20 years ago, Nutrition Facts labels were standardized and put on the back of almost every food and beverage in stores. Recently, the FDA proposed updates to the Nutrition Facts label to make it more relevant to today’s consumer. Those updates might be coming just in the nick of time because, according to the NPD group, Chicago, many consumers have stopped reading these labels.

Through its National Eating Trends service, which monitors the eating and drinking habits of U.S. consumers, NPD routinely asks consumers their level of agreement with the statement, “I frequently check labels to determine whether the foods I buy contain anything I’m trying to avoid.” In 1990, after the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) was passed, 65 percent of consumers completely or mostly agreed with the statement, NPD said. In 2013, the percentages of consumers in agreement fell to 48 percent.

Why the lack of interest?

Many consumers don’t read nutrition labels because they no longer feel the need to do so, Harry Balzer, NPD chief industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America, told Store Brands. When Nutrition Facts panels were introduced, they were meant to educate consumers on what they were eating, and they've done just that. In fact, they've done it so well, he added, these consumers believe they have nothing new to learn. They know that the nutrition panels of their staple weekly purchases haven't changed in 10 years.

Still, 48 percent of consumers do read the Nutrition Facts label, and NPD tracks what those consumers usually look for. According to NPD’s Dieting Monitor, which examines top-of-mind dieting and nutrition-related issues facing consumers, the top five items of concern for these consumers are  in consecutive order, calories, total fat, sugar, sodium and calories from fat.

Americans now want to know more than just how many calories or grams of fat their food contains, Balzer stated. For example, they want to know what type of antioxidants a product has, whether it is gluten-free, and the number of servings of whole grains it has. And that Nutrition Facts label might be read more often by consumers if it offered a space where information on contemporary issues could be included, he added.

But until such a space is added, retailers could very well find that the callouts they include on their store brand packaging will become more important than ever to consumers looking for products with specific functional or free-from attributes.