A recent study in Australia explores the effect of new front-of-pack nutrition food labels on food choice and willingness to pay.
The requirement of including nutritional information on packaged foods has been established in various countries by governments or by the food manufacturers themselves. The most frequently used method employed to present this information is the Nutritional Facts Panel (NFP). This panel summarizes the quantities of good and bad nutrients within the product. However, this panel is not routinely used by consumers for various reasons such as a complexity interpreting the information, time pressures, and competing factors such as taste, cost, price, or habit.
A new concept that was introduced was front-of-pack food labels which simplified the nutritional information. Despite these front-of-pack labels, the difficulty to understand the nutritional information provided remains.
In this recent study carried out in Australia, researchers included 2,069 adults and children of various ages, genders and socioeconomic status. The objective of this study was to investigate the impact of three different front-of-pack labels on consumers and their choice of healthy and unhealthy products.
The three front-of-pack labels used in this study were:
1) Health Star Rating system
2) Multiple Traffic Light
3) Daily Intake Guide
The Health Star Rating System was the Star Performer
The results of the study were recently published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity. The results demonstrated that significant changes were seen when the Health Star Rating system was employed on the food packing. This means that healthier products were selected the most, then moderately healthy products, and then less healthy products. Additionally, the Health Star Rating system also resulted in significant differences in willingness to pay for healthier rather than less healthy products across all food categories.
The Multiple Traffic Light System Gets a Green Light
The second front of pack label investigated in this study was the Multiple Traffic Light system. With this form of a label, participants were less likely to choose less healthy foods. This highlighted that the multiple traffic light system was effective in assisting consumers to determine if products were from opposite ends of the healthfulness spectrum. No significant effect was seen on a willingness to pay with this food label system.
The Daily Intake Guide Did Not Meet the Mark
Of the three food label systems, the Daily Intake Guide performed worst. No significant differences were seen in product choice or willingness to pay. Consumers were therefore not helped to choose healthier products by the Daily Intake Guide.
The results of this study support the evidence obtained from similar studies in the past. However, future studies conducted in real-world shopping contexts are needed to verify further the effects of these front-of-pack food labels.
This study has demonstrated the positive effects of certain food labels on the healthfulness of choices made by consumers. This study thus provides important guidance to policymakers on the types of food labels that are most likely to obtain positive health outcomes.
Written by Jade Marie Evans, MPharm, Medical Writer
Reference: Talati et al. (2017). The impact of interpretive and reductive front-of-pack labels on food choice and willingness to pay. Available: https://ijbnpa.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12966-017-0628-2. Last accessed 07th Jan 2018.