Hybrid labelling most effective at shifting choices — study

Monday, 17 August, 2020

Hybrid labelling most effective at shifting choices — study

A study on nutritional labelling and consumers’ purchasing decisions has found hybrid labelling to be most effective at shifting choices.

The study, by health economists at the universities of Bath and Bristol, evaluated the impact of front-of-pack (FoP) nutritional labelling on retailers’ store-branded products.

In 2006, the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) recommended retailers introduce FoP labelling on their store-brand products on seven types of foods — ready meals, burgers/sausages, pies, breaded/coated meats, pizzas, sandwiches and cereal.

Several retailers including Waitrose, Co-Op, Marks & Spencer and Asda took up the recommendation. They introduced two types of nutritional labelling — some introduced a traffic light system, a colour-coded scheme denoting the amount of nutrients by the colours red (high), amber (medium) and green (low), while some others introduced a hybrid system incorporating both a traffic light system and Guideline Daily Amounts (GDAs), where both colours and the contribution that each of these nutrients make towards the adult GDA were displayed.

Clear information on salt, sugar and calorie content enabled households to improve the quality of their diet by reducing the total monthly calories from labelled store-brand foods by 588 Kcal, saturated fats by 14 g, sugars by 7 g and sodium by 0.8 mg. Hybrid labelling was most effective at shifting choices.

The study found a reduction in the quantity of labelled store-branded food purchased (for example, ready meals, pizzas, burgers, etc) and an overall improvement in the nutritional composition of consumers’ shopping baskets where labelling was displayed. Significantly, these improvements in food shopping habits were most prominently observed across poorer households.

The research comes as the UK government sets out its new obesity strategy in response to COVID-19, unveiling it as part of a number of measures including menu calorie labelling to help people make healthier choices when eating out. The team behind the study say these new results can help inform future policies in this area.

“Our results suggest that nutritional labelling on food products can play an important role in starting to shift behaviours towards more healthier food choices whether that be during the weekly shop in a supermarket or potentially through new healthier menu choice options,” said lead researcher Dr Eleonora Fichera from the Department of Economics at the University of Bath.

“Labelling has a dual effect in better informing consumers about the nutritional value of the products they put in their shopping basket, but it may also incentivise manufacturers towards better quality food products.

“This of course is not a panacea to solve the obesity problem, which is multifaceted and needs to be tackled with a much more systemic approach. But these results provide policymakers with further evidence that such measures can make an important contribution.”

©stock.adobe.com/au/Brian Jackson

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