Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of US consumers notice nutritional information on food packaging more often now compared to two years ago, a global online survey by The Nielsen Company showed.
And almost the same number (67 percent) claim to “mostly” understand nutritional information on food packaging, which compares to less than half (44 percent) of global consumers who make the same claim.
Deepak Varma, senior vice president, Nielsen customized research, said: “As obesity rates continue to rise globally and with lifestyle-related heart disease the number one killer worldwide today, there is increasing pressure on the food industry to play a greater role in educating consumers about what they’re eating.
“Given that so many consumers are taking time to read nutrition labels, there is also a marketing opportunity for food manufacturers to provide consumer-friendly information on labels that may entice shoppers to switch brands at the point of purchase.”
Varma believes that the relationship between consumers and nutritional information and labeling provides “unmistakable insight into health and diet concerns”.
He added: “Without question, nutritional labeling can be a powerful marketing tool for savvy food manufacturers. For example, food marketers can make relatively low investments in pack and labeling changes compared to advertising and promotions and drive significant sales.”
More Americans now believe they are overweight, according to a recent study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. It said an estimated 25.6 percent of US adults reported being obese in 2007, compared to 23.9 percent in 2005 which is an increase of 1.7 percent.
Promoting health claims
An example of how the industry has used a health claim on packaging as a promotion mechanism to appeal to consumers is the 'HFCS-free' boasts.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has until recently been a popular and common sweetener used especially in beverages, has been found by some studies to be linked to higher body weight.
According to results in September from Datamonitor's Productscan Online, 146 new food and beverage products have been launched that year worldwide proclaiming that they do not contain any high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). This compared to just 54 products that announced they were HFCS-free in 2006.
Among the larger packaged food and beverage to do so was Kraft Foods, Dannon and Del Monte Foods.
The Nielsen survey showed that 21 percent of US consumers always check the nutritional information on food packaging - a figure which creeps up to 25 percent when they are trying to lose weight. This compared to only 15 percent of global consumers.
Just over half (51 percent) of shoppers in the US always check the fat content on nutrition labels, while 48 percent check food labeling for calories and 43 percent for trans fats.
Nearly half (42 percent) of people in the US check when thinking of buying a product for the first time while eight percent never check the nutritional information, which is consistent with the global average.
And almost half (42 percent) of consumers globally check food labels for preservatives, while only 24 percent of US consumers report doing so.
Experts say that efforts to reduce the obesity figures provides opportunities for food and beverage manufacturers to position consumer products that address the phenomenon.
A recent Credit Suisse report called “Obesity and Investment Implications” said that revenue related to obesity products in the consumer staples sector, which includes food and beverage companies, is set to reach $1.4 trillion globally in expected revenues by 2012, with average annual growth of 9.3 percent from 2008.
The report states: "In the packaged foods space, the drive against obesity is a further acceleration of already existing trends toward health and nutrition, convenience and trading up to more premium items."
According to Credit Suisse "portfolios have been reformulated, repackaged, and repositioned to provide healthier options, be it low fat, low sodium, low carb, trans fat free, sugar free, reduced calorie, portion control, or whole grains”.
It describes these trends as part of a “natural evolution of the food industry to shifts in consumer demand or requirements.