"For manufacturers of packaged goods, the product's nutritional proposition - whether it appeals to the specific selection criteria of the consumer - and the clarity of the information on the nutrition panel are critical at the point of product trial," said Bienvenido C. Niles Jr., president, ACNielsen Asia Pacific.
"Whether the product 'contents' meet the consumers' selection criteria, and how easily the label is understood, can determine whether or not the consumer proceeds to purchase the product, or return it to the shelf."
The twice-yearly global ACNielsen Online Consumer Opinion Survey polled over 21,100 respondents in 38 markets from Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, Latin America and South Africa. The study asked consumers around the world how much they understand food labeling, when they would check labels and what they check for as they do their grocery shopping.
Across Asia Pacific, Thailand (41 percent), India (32 percent) and Malaysia (29 percent) made the world's top ten countries where people claimed to "always" check food labels. At the other end of the scale, those most likely to 'never' check food labels were the Japanese (24 percent), followed by the Finnish (15 percent) and Dutch (14 percent). "Local culture may strongly influence whether or not consumers check food labels," said Niles.
"In Japan, for example, consumers place a high level of trust in well-known manufacturers not to produce foodstuffs that could do them harm, and given the strict legal restrictions, believe that only products of the highest quality make it to the shelves. One could argue that in markets where there is a high level of label checking, there is less trust in manufacturers to do the right thing by the consumer."
Interestingly, the survey found that North Americans were most conversant with food labeling, with 64 percent claiming to 'mostly' understand food panels. However, US consumers do not always check what they are eating.
"Food labels represent an important opportunity for consumer packaged goods manufacturers to differentiate their products and build consumer trust, but the opportunities are lost if labels aren't being read," said Alice Fawver, senior vice president, retail measurement services, ACNielsen US Marketing.
But perhaps due to growing nutritional awareness, American consumers are becoming a lot more label-conscious than they once were. There is growing awareness for example of the danger of trans fats, and as of January 1 of course, trans fat label will be obligatory.
It is vital therefore that food manufacturers provide consumers with the information they are looking for.
"It is critical for manufacturers to make their labeling as relevant and clear to their consumers as they can, given consumers are making purchase choices based on the information on the packaging," said Niles.
"If they can't understand the label, they may not risk the purchase."