As consumers’ purchasing habits continue to steer away from the traditional face-to-face purchasing experience, nutritional labelling systems act as a means of communication to convey information regarding a food product’s contents to consumers. These systems are intended to empower the consumer, allowing them to make educated purchasing decisions based on nutritional facts. In order to encourage informed decisions, these systems need to be authentic, science-based and easily understood by the average consumer. Due to these requirements, varying nutritional labelling presentations have been embraced with differing measurement techniques. Some of these presentations take form through:

  • traffic light labels
  • health star rating labels
  • nutrition information panels

Although many systems pose real opportunities for consumers to tackle an unhealthy diet, some systems have been deemed unproductive, confusing, and inefficient.

Advantages of Nutritional Labelling Systems:
Nutritional labelling systems have the potential to improve the overall health of a society by providing the tools to allow consumers to make informed purchasing decisions. This means reducing calorie intake, trans fats, salt, and sugar, which in turn reduces the risk of chronic disease. Furthermore, systematic information provision gives consumers the opportunity to make health comparisons among products and brands. With nutritional labelling on products, the entire manufacturing of food products has the potential to transform, as food manufacturers will need to produce competitive products in terms of health to remain a brand of choice.

Spain’s Ministry of Health has chosen to follow France’s lead by incorporating the traffic light based Nutriscore system in grocery stores. This five letter color coded system ranging from A-E and green to red provides five levels based on an analysis of favorable and unfavorable food contents.

The Nutriscore system differs from other systems in that the ingredients within each product are interpreted as a whole. Rather than providing content specific information to the consumer, the consumer can understand the nutritional value of a product based on the letter and color code. This means the consumer does not need to analyze a product ingredient by ingredient and depending on serving size, which can be confusing and require a deep nutritional background. The color coded system allows easy identification of healthy food products, saving the consumer time and effort. The system also provides easy product comparisons between brands within a food category so that the healthiest product can be chosen.

Disadvantages of Nutritional Labelling Systems:
Nutritional labelling systems evidently have the potential to empower the consumer to make healthy purchases. However, the nature of the systems often causes confusion and misinterpretation among consumers. Nutrition can be measured and expressed in a variety of ways, each influencing consumer perception. For example, a labelling system can measure the nutritional value of a product based on meeting a nutrition standard, either by fitting a threshold or criterion. An example of this is claims of “reduced fat” or “sugar free,” which is disadvantageous in that a consumer may perceive these statements as indicators of healthy products. Product perception is therefore skewed. In the contrary, a products nutritional value can be expressed through evaluations or interpretations, which can take form through a rating scale.

The Nutriscore system is reflective of the rating scale, and has raised controversy. Though an advantage to the Nutriscore system is the quick and easy comparisons between brands and products, the consumer cannot make specific comparisons, which can be especially necessary when comparing, for example, artificial verses natural sugars.

Furthermore, problems as a result of content analysis have arisen. A D level rating, for example, was given to olive oil verses a B level rating given to Coca Cola. This rating was a result of high, but healthy fats within olive oil; because fats did not equate to nutritional value, a low score was given. The issue of product comparisons arises again here because within the Nutriscore system, consumers can only compare products within a food category. This means a consumer cannot accurately compare olive oil to a Coca-Cola, but can instead compare a Coco-Cola to another non-alcoholic beverage. Category specific comparisons raise confusion and misinterpretation among the average grocery shopper.

Why is Nutrition Labelling Important?
Studies have proven that despite their sometimes confusing nature, nutritional labelling systems are effective in influencing the consumer to make a healthy product decision. This is because without nutritional labelling systems, it is difficult to easily and accurately communicate a health-related message to the consumer. Consumers have the right to take control of what they put into their body, and nutrition labels provide them that opportunity. It is created so that educated decisions can be made when it comes to avoiding health concerns like diabetes and high blood pressure.

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