European consumers are generally aware of nutritional labelling systems and guideline daily amounts (GDA), according to a new survey – but not everyone actually looks for nutritional information on packaging.
The survey, conducted by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) questioned around 17,300 consumers in six EU countries – France, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Sweden and the UK – each of which uses a different nutritional labelling system.
The researchers reported high levels of awareness of GDA: generally, over 50 per cent of respondents in each country had heard of it. Moreover, consumers were generally familiar with the labelling system used in their own country.
Professor Klaus Grunert, who conducted the study for EUFIC, was positive about the results. “While there are several nutrition labelling schemes across Europe, our findings show that people recognise them and generally know how to use them to make informed nutrition choices,” he said.
The debate between the European Parliament and the European Council over the harmonisation of nutritional labelling has been ongoing since the legislation was proposed at the start of this year.
“We hope [the study] will make a valuable contribution to evidence-based policy making,” a EUFIC spokesperson told FoodNavigator.com.
Rapporteur Renate Sommer was due to present her report to the Parliament committee last Tuesday. However, the report has been delayed and a draft may not be released before next month.
Sweden uses the keyhole nutritional labelling system, whereby different coloured keyholes indicate the healthiest food in a given category such as dairy products, meat and pre-prepared products. Although the survey showed 95 per cent awareness of this system, only 40 per cent of respondents had even heard of GDA.
The UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), on the other hand, favours the traffic light nutritional labelling system, which uses colour coding to indicate high, medium or low amounts of undesirable nutrients. Some manufacturers and retailers combine this with specific information showing the nutritional value as a proportion of GDA, which recommends consumption limits for calories, fats, sugars and salt.
Awareness of GDA was highest in the UK, where around 90 per cent of respondents had heard of it.
People were also generally aware of the traffic light system, although the survey suggested that levels of subjective understanding were higher than actual understanding. 73 per cent of respondents thought that a red light meant that they should avoid eating a particular product.
Significantly, less than 15 per cent considered the colour coding system to be useful.
On average only 18 per cent of consumers across the surveyed countries regularly looked for nutritional information on packaging before making a purchase. This figure was highest in the UK, with 27 per cent of respondents saying they looked for this information. In France, only 9 per cent did so.
Across the board, less than 15 per cent of those surveyed looked elsewhere on the packaging (such as the ingredients list) for information other than that supplied by the nutritional labelling. However, in Germany this figure rose to 32 per cent.