Accurate labeling is a vital marketing tool that must not be abused, if a new survey is to be believed, writes Anthony Fletcher.
Conducted in June 2005 among 1,000 consumers, the FIND/SVP study found 78 percent of those surveyed would trust nutritional advice from a food retailer, and that 64 percent found labeling the most useful source of in-store nutritional information.
"Today's savvy consumer is looking for quick, in-store nutritional information on the foods they buy," said Jessica Hogue, co-author and business analyst, FIND/SVP .
"This presents a unique opportunity for food retailers and manufacturers to deliver on this need, change consumer purchasing habits and foster greater customer loyalty, while also building brand awareness."
But it also presents a warning. Food makers are increasingly coming under scrutiny for inaccurate labeling as consumers become increasingly conscious about issues such as health, nutrition and obesity.
In California for example where the debate over acrylamide labeling is raging, the Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) claims that dozens of potato chips it tested contain excessive levels of acrylamide without any warning whatsoever. For every product the pressure group tested, a one-ounce serving eaten daily exceeded levels that require a cancer warning under the state's Proposition 65.
Acrylamide, a carcinogen that is created when starchy foods are baked, roasted, fried or toasted, was placed on the list in 1990.
And according to the National Honey Board (NHB), virtually all consumers, when presented with a product with the word honey in its name, expect the product to not only actually contain honey, but also use honey as the primary sweetener. However, numerous products containing the word honey in their names not only do not have honey as the primary sweetener, but they may not use honey at all.
Food companies not only face fines and censure if they label inaccurately; they face losing the substantial consumer trust that has been built up. This is especially true in today's health conscious climate.
Consumers were also asked by FIND/SVP what the deciding factors were in making a purchase (consumers were able to select more than one answer). Not surprisingly, 93 percent said price was a determining factor. Sixty-nine percent ranked the expiration date next. But more than half of respondents said nutritional content (59 percent) and calories/fat content (53 percent) were also extremely important.
"Consumers are overloaded with information and conflicting reports on what is healthy," said Julie Chmielewski, co-author of the study and business analyst, FIND/SVP.
"One day fat is bad, the next it's carbs and now it's trans fat. Instead of empowering consumers, this abundant amount of information is confusing them. Those few companies that have jumped on this opportunity have seen success in building a trusted bond with the consumer. More can be done to leverage this consumer need."