The Hartman Group's upcoming Pulse Report, Food and Beverage Labeling from a Consumer Perspective finds that 30 percent of consumers say they read product labels 'much more often' now than last year. Some 31 percent said they read labels 'slightly more often' now, while 36 percent report no change from last year. Only four percent of respondents reported reading labels less now than they did last year.
The findings were based on an interactive survey conducted this month and involving 747 consumers. According to Hartman, the findings reveal that label reading has become part of consumers' lifestyles.
"Label reading can be seen as elements of lifestyle, meaning there are a number of driving forces that trigger consumers to 'interrogate' the packages they purchase," said Hartman.
According to the market researcher, many of the influences to purchase products - and read labels - are controlled by events occurring in the home as opposed to in the store.
"In the case of label reading, when we consider what tips the everyday, casual glance at packaging labels into the region of "careful" analysis, we must take into account a broad range of influences that drive consumers to scrutinize labels, not the least of which include the effects of the media, consumer lifestage, household structure, religion, health conditions, food safety and freshness concerns, as well as diet and weight management programs."
Hartman identifies five major areas of influence that drive people to read labels.
Firstly, consumers are showing a growing interest in the way products are sourced and produced. They check labels to find out about the origination and quality of ingredients, as well as signals of ethical production.
Shoppers are also often looking for or trying to avoid certain ingredients, which could be linked to personal nutritional needs or perceptions of the positive or negative effects of certain ingredients.
Others check labels because of food safety concerns, or a desire for fresh products.
In addition, food preferences related to health conditions or religious and dietary restrictions are making shoppers turn to labels for information.
Finally, media reports have an influence on consumers, with reports on nutrition research or imported and tainted food scare reports making people more likely to read product labels.
Hartman also revealed the top five drivers identified by label-reading consumers. Over three quarters of respondents (76 percent) said they read labels because they are trying to eat healthy. Some 59 percent said they are typically cautious about what is in their food. Concerns about the freshness of food drive 46 percent of people to check labels, while 45 percent say they are trying to manage their weight. Finally, 41 percent of respondents reported being concerned about where their ingredients come from.
However, despite the growing tendency to inspect the packaging of products, there remain certain occasions when consumers say they will ignore labels. These include indulgent occasions, seasonal influences, travel, and special events.
"Consumer food purchase decisions are becoming more and more complex. Marketers struggle with explaining increasingly complicated stories to consumers about what a food product is and how it's good - from diverse standpoints ranging from health to ethics," said Hartman.
"Matching the product story to the consumer can be challenging - what works for mainstream consumers is insufficient for evolved wellness consumers, and what attracts the latter often scares off the former."
"In general, label reading itself may soon be classified as a lifestyle hobby, with a diversity of influences driving consumers to 'learn' (or ignore) certain elements of a package. While specific influences tend to tip consumers to consult label components carefully, rising interests in freshness, authentic product narratives and the origin of ingredients speak for interesting times ahead for manufacturers and retailers seeking to influence consumers by package design."