Changes to Nutrition Facts panel may have limited impact on consumer perceptions, says Hartman Group

Out with the old... Proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts panel would make serving sizes more realistic, highlight added sugars, and make calories much more prominent

Proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts panel on food and beverage labels are well-intentioned, but may not have as much effect on how consumers perceive products as policymakers hope, according to Hartman Group.

To understand how consumers might react to the new-look labels, which feature more realistic serving sizes and flag up ‘added sugar’, Hartman Group conducted an online test in which it showed consumers existing and new-look labels for the same ice cream and soda products.

Participants were then asked to describe in their own words (ie. unprompted) what they felt were the most important features of the products based on the information on the panels. 

(Ice cream and soda were chosen as prime examples of where there is a big disparity between serving sizes as currently listed and what consumers actually eat/drink.)

Nutrition Facts panel changes are welcome, but impact could be limited 

However, what consumers said about the products did not vary according to the label design, with hardly any respondents mentioning added sugar, even when it was flagged up in the new design, and only 7% or fewer mentioning serving size, regardless of which label they were looking at.

“As previous Hartman Group research indicates, the nutrition panel is just one of many information sources that concerned consumers use to make informed decisions,” said Hartman Group.

“Although it’s heartening that the nutrition facts panel is evolving to be more in line with what users want and need, the panel is no longer at the leading edge of America’s health and wellness evolution.  

“Just as social pressure led people to abandon smoking on a large scale, intimate social pressure is one of the most effective processes for effecting dietary change. The bottom line is that change is best effected through culture, not educational campaigns in the supermarket aisle.”

Hartman Group: People that care about calories and sugar already do the math

It added: “These changes likely are aimed at about 25% of consumers, people unconcerned enough about what’s in their food that they do not do serving-size math or evaluate ingredient lists.

“It is the same group of 'nutrition sinners' that many public-health efforts attempt to reach. But that audience isn’t listening, because it doesn’t have a proactive stance on health and well-being.”

Click HERE and HERE to read more about the proposed changes to the Nutrition Facts panel. 

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The proposed label (see right) would enlarge calorie amounts and would replace existing serving sizes to more accurately reflect what consumers actually eat or drink.

FDA’s proposed nutrition label changes emphasize calories, serving sizes

“There were originally two options put forward, the main proposal, which we saw behind Mrs. Obama at the launch, and one with a clear difference between ‘get more’ and ‘get less’ nutrients. That alternate option just keeps getting lost," said WGC/Oldways' Cynthia Harriman.

How much do consumers use (and understand) nutrition labels?

“As soon as you make an item on the nutrition label bold, you are venturing into public policy, which was the challenge with the design initially,” said Burkey Belser, who designed the original nutrition label.

Nutrition label update: A tweak or an overhaul?