Nutrition Labels: Ho-hum?

Sixteen years after Nutrition Facts labels were put on the back of nearly every food and beverage in stores, interest in reading the nutrition facts label has steadily waned among U.S. households, according to food market research by the NPD Group.

Through its National Eating Trends service, which monitors the eating and drinking habits of U.S. consumers, NPD asked 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 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was passed, 65 percent of consumers completely or mostly agreed with the statement. That percentage decreased to 60 percent in 1994, shortly before the Nutrition Facts labels began appearing on food packaging, and rose to 64 percent in 1995 after the labels were on food packaging. Since 1995, the percentages of consumers in agreement have ranged from a high of 61 percent to a low of 50 percent.

The Food and Drug Administration, which administers the NLEA, is currently reviewing guidelines for front-of-pack labeling, which up to now has not been regulated. Beginning Jan. 1, 2012, nutrition labels will be added to meat and poultry packages. And on Monday, the food industry issued its own guidelines for front-of-pack labeling.

NPD also tracks what consumers usually look for when they do read the Nutrition Facts label. According to NPD’s Dieting Monitor, which continually examines top-of-mind dieting and nutrition-related issues facing consumers, among the top five items consumers who read the label look for are, consecutively, calories, total fat, sugar, sodium and calories from fat.

“If there is one clear message that consumers are trying to send, it’s that the label has grown tired and uninteresting,” said Harry Balzer, author of “Eating Patterns in America” and chief industry analyst at NPD. “All good marketers want to keep their packaging contemporary, and that should include the nutrition facts information.”

The NPD Group is the leading provider of reliable and comprehensive consumer and retail information for a wide range of industries, including food and beverage and foodservice.

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