Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Lately a disturbing question being asked about nutrition labeling pertains to the extent of understanding consumer has after reading them and whether this leads to buying better products in the end? Of course there cannot be a straight answer to the above doubts. Those who advocate inclusion of symbols or familiar recognizable icons to present a graphic message about the quality of food inside a packet, believe that most consumers do not read the label and many do not understand even if they read. What about the experience in countries where there are millions of English illiterate population which cannot even read the label let alone understand? Probably symbols or icons will be more useful under such situations. Before switching over to new concepts, one must clearly foresee the favorable as well as negative impact of the new system. Here is the result of a small study on this subject which is interesting. 

"Consumers in the U.S. have faced an onslaught of front-of-package nutrition symbols, including the "Smart Choices" single summary indicator, and manufacturer symbols from Pepsico, Kellogg's, Mars, Kraft, and the Grocery Manufacturers of America. Due to their simplicity and suggested ease of use, the intent of the symbols is to help consumers make better choices in constructing a balanced diet. New research published by the American Marketing Association finds that consumers' intent to buy a product (with some negative nutrient levels) increases when the package features front-of-pack nutrition symbols compared to when it does not. However, simple symbols can lull consumers into thinking a food is more healthful than it may actually be".

Food is a complex material containing hundreds of chemical molecules with different structure and nutritional role and any attempt to simplify it is not going to be easy. Whether traffic light symbol or any other method that tries to categorize foods into clear compartments will face enormous practical difficulties since both negative and positive aspects of health impact have to be taken into reckoning. The existing mode of nutrition labeling has served well for many years and if past experience is factored into any modified or improved version, consumers may be benefited to some extent. Whether these facts can be communicated in local languages is a matter to be considered. May be for a country like India, inclusion of symbols or icons still may be useful considering the extent of illiteracy prevalent.


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