Nutritional labels confuse global consumers: study

by Meat&Poultry Staff
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NEW YORK — Fifty-nine percent of global consumers have difficulty understanding nutritional labels on food packaging. Fifty-three percent consider themselves overweight, according to a new Nielsen study titled "Nielsen’s 2011 Global Survey".

The study of more than 25,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries shows 48 percent of consumers are attempting to shed weight, and of those 78 percent are trying to lose weight through dieting.

Fifty-nine percent of global consumers have difficulty understanding nutritional facts on food packaging, with 52 percent understanding the labels “in part,” the study shows. Meanwhile, 41 percent of global respondents “mostly” understand nutritional labels, down from 44 percent in a 2008 report. Seven percent say they do not understand nutritional labels at all.

North American consumers show the most confidence in understanding nutritional labels, with 57 percent stating they mostly understand the information. Fifty-eight percent of US respondents said they mostly understand the information, compared to 49 percent of Canadians.

Consumers in Asia Pacific show the lowest level of nutritional-label understanding — 31 percent stated they mostly understand nutritional information. Food label confusion is highest in the Chinese-speaking world and other Southeast Asian markets. Consumers in India, Australia and New Zealand had greater levels of understanding.

Forty-five percent of Europeans relayed they had a strong understanding of nutritional labels. Sixty percent of Portuguese respondents largely understand nutritional labels. French consumers are the least likely to understand nutritional information, with 31 percent indicating full comprehension.

Global respondents are skeptical about the accuracy and believability of health claims found on food packaging, such as “low fat” and “all natural,” the study shows. Calorie count claims, however, are the most trusted. Thirty-three percent of respondents believe calorie-count claims are always accurate. Fifteen percent of global respondents on average rate less-defined claims such as “freshness” and “heart-healthy” as “always accurate.”

Latin America consumers showed the most trust in packaging health claims throughout the survey’s nutritional and content categories, based on an average reported number of consumers who believe the claims are always accurate. Consumers from the Middle East/Africa and Asia Pacific were the second-most likely to trust the labels, followed by European and North American consumers.

Forty-nine percent of global respondents reported fast-food restaurants should always include calorie information on menus, while 31 percent said fast-food restaurants should sometimes do so. On the other hand, 20 percent of global online consumers think fast-food menus should never include calorie data.

Demand for calorie counts on fast-food menus is highest in Latin America (64 percent), North America (56 percent) and Europe (53 percent), the study relays. Twenty-eight percent of responders in the Middle East and Africa think calorie information should always be listed on fast food menus.

Forty-one percent of global respondents think full-service chain restaurants should always post calorie counts and 39 percent think they should sometimes. Twenty percent of global online consumers think full-service chain restaurants should never include calorie information.

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