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The Significance of Food Labelling: The Law and the Market

Jun 28, 2017
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Food label


*This is a collaborative post with Erudus.


In a market that is over-saturated, consumers are offered an array of food products in the UK’s supermarkets, meaning food labelling has become a prominent part of helping consumers decide which foods to buy.

There are stringent laws and regulations regarding what needs to be displayed on food packaging, as food labels must contain the different factors that impact on food production, including the ingredients and allergen information contained in the food.

However, little research has been conducted into how food labelling influences a consumer’s decision to purchase a particular food product. Erudus, a company that holds legislative information regarding the 14 allergens list within the EU, and allergy information for branded produce – is a data pool who share information and can establish exactly what information needs to be included on food labels, while holding the key to information that could reveal how and why this information can influence consumers in the future.

Labelling and the law in the EU

Legislated under EU law, food law establishes that safeguarding ensures the ‘rights of consumers to safe food and to accurate and honest information’. The most common and basic pieces of information that should be included on a food label are:

  • The name of the food that the package contains.
  • The ‘best before’ or the ‘use by’ date of the product, or alternatively instructions on where to find it.
  • Any necessary warnings that should be included for consumers. For example, some food products contain E numbers that may affect concentration levels in children – so this information should be given to the consumer in an honest and clear written message.
  • Any special storage conditions.
  • Any additional cooking instructions where they are necessary.
  • EU Food Regulation No. 1169/2011: This stipulates that manufacturers and businesses must be able to provide information regarding the 14 major food allergens contained within foods.

The influence food labelling has on consumer choices across the world

As we have previously discussed, legislation in the EU regarding labelling on foods is stringent, and consumers need to be aware of any allergens or E numbers that are contained within foods before they make their purchasing decision. What this suggests is that consumers within the EU are sensitive to the labelling information contained on products, as public consciousness has shaped the way legislation and labelling has developed over time within the EU. However, when it comes to consumers deciding what foods to buy in other global markets, it isn’t as simple as establishing whether the food contains any allergens or whether the food contains too much fat or sugar – the overall picture is more detailed and complex.

In a 2011 study of 203 Americans looking at 64 different grocery products, results revealed that 61% of participants read one or more sections of the nutritional label if it was centred in the middle, sharply contrasted by 37% and 34% if the label was centred to the left or right respectively. What this means is that consumers aren’t necessarily studying ingredient and allergy information unless they must.

Furthermore, 9% looked at the calorie content, and 33% looked at the calorie content when they were reminded. This would justify the idea that consumers do not necessarily base their decision on the nutritional information in front of them. Although, this does not consider that paying attention to the fat content within foods has become popularised within recent years. However, if consumers were not basing their purchasing decisions on this information, then what information were they basing it on, and how do they make their decision now? Further studies that have been carried out can provide us with a greater understanding of this complex idea.

Based on a study conducted by the University of Sri Lanka in 2015, attitudes towards paying attention to food labels have changed, however the means as to how they influence our purchasing decisions remain unclear.

Within this study, 98% of respondents examined food labels inconsistently, and when consumers did examine them – it was to establish whether the food contained any harmful flavour enhancers, dyes or E numbers. However, it was established that only 29% consistently examined food labels, whereas 3% claimed that they very rarely examined food labels. This suggests that nutritional information on a food label isn’t necessarily the determining factor in purchasing a product. The study also showed that more consumers checked the expiry date over the fat content, with 80% checking the expiry date and 74% checking the fat content.

If nutritional information was overlooked at the expense of other factors, then what were those other factors? The research concluded that extenuating circumstances such as vegetarianism, religious beliefs to eliminate particular foods from a diet, and whether a food was organically grown were the most important factors when influencing a purchasing decision. In this sense, purchasing foods has less to do with the nutritional richness of a food, but more to do with extenuating social circumstances.

Brand loyalty and busy lifestyles mean that people are less likely to look at labels and more likely to concentrate on the branding of a product; perhaps if all packages were branded in the same way, people would be less likely to concentrate on their own specific circumstances and more on the nutritional value a certain food contains.



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