Consumer surveys, if carried out scientifically provide valuable information to the industry regarding the trend of thinking amongst consumers and plan new product development activities to evolve products with maximum acceptability. Food labeling provisions have been evolved on the basis that consumers are literate and can understand the implications of the information provided on the label. This may be true of industrially front line countries where as such assumptions may not be valid in many countries where a substantial segment of the consumer population cannot comprehend the significance of label declarations. An interesting survey in the UK has brought out the fact that most consumers buy products in the market based mostly on taste factors giving secondary importance to nutrition data.
"A new survey of UK consumers' understanding of nutrition information on food labels found most had a good grasp of predominant front-of-pack schemes – but only 27 per cent used that info to inform their food choices. Deciding on the best nutrition labelling scheme has been a contentious issue in Europe, as an all-EU system is anticipated in the new food information legislation. While the European food industry largely likes its guidance daily amounts scheme, others – such as traffic lights, Choices, and the Swedish keyhole – also have staunch supporters. The new study, published in the journal Appetite, was conducted by the Danish Aarhus University and the European Food Information Council with the cooperation of some major retailers. The conclusion that the majority of consumers can decipher nutrition info from nutrition labels but base their purchasing decisions on taste considerations instead, reinforces the need to ensure that sensory properties of healthier food options are not overlooked. But more than that, at a policy level the authors said there has been too much emphasis on choosing the right labelling scheme – and not enough on the motivating people to eat healthily. They say there is a need for a broader nutrition policy where labelling is just one of multiple instruments. In order to prevent over-reporting of nutrition label use seen in previous research, the study was conducted in two parts: interviews and questionnaires, and in-store observations. From 2000 interviews the researchers, led by Prof Klaus Grunert, found that 88 per cent of consumers were correctly able to identify the healthiest ready meal of a selection using GDAs, 84 per cent using hybrid GDA-traffic lights, and 84 using traffic lights alone. On a scale of 1-10 subjective understanding of the health info on labels was seen to be 7 for GDAs and 6.9 per traffic lights, leading Prof Grunert and co to conclude that the high level of understanding was independent of format".
The survey findings send an unmistakable message to the food industry that products having high nutrition credentials need not succeed in the market unless they are good from taste and flavor angles. No matter how hard the nutrition facts are stressed, it may be difficult to convince the consumers to change their perception of food. It is unfortunate that nutrition information becomes important only when the consumers are afflicted with one or the other health problem or over-conscious about being healthy. The survey findings raise the inevitable question whether government intervention is necessary to keep out unhealthy foods from the market through executive action. Probably before such a situation develops, industry may be well advised to combine nutrition with sensory quality in their product portfolio for a win-win situation.V.H.POTTY