Ever stood in the aisle of a grocery store completely overwhelmed by the claims jumping out from the labels? You may not be alone. Health advocacy groups have long decried America's nutrition labeling system as misleading, confusing and, ultimately, inaccurate, and the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced plans to overhaul it for the first time in two decades. But just how much do Americans value nutrition against other factors, such as cost and convenience, when making decisions on their grocery runs? And how much faith are they placing in those more general claims, such as Healthy, Guilt Free or Reduced… well… anything? Our findings indicate that while Americans are straight on some of the claims, they're still in need of the skinny on others.
When asked how helpful they believe each of a series of common food packaging statements are in guiding them toward nutritious choices in the grocery store, results were mixed. Many of the more carefully regulated claims are held in high esteem, though at least one appears to be experiencing some consumer confusion. Conversely, some of the less meaningful claims are seen as helpful by majorities of consumers in their quest for nutritious choices.
These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,266 adults surveyed online between Feb. 12 and 17, 2014.
Nearly three-fourths of Americans (73%) feel packages proclaiming their contents to be "fresh" are helpful in guiding them towards healthy choices – and well they should. Fact: Only products which have never been frozen or warmed and which contain no preservatives can qualify for such a claim.
Strong majorities also see the following claims as helpful which makes sense as each has strict criteria the products need to meet in order to qualify for such claims:
• High in/Good Source of (e.g., High in Fiber, Good Source of Calcium) – 73%
• Low (e.g., Low Sodium, Low Cholesterol) – 71%
• Free (e.g., Fat Free, Cholesterol Free) – 68%
• Lean – 65%
Americans are more divided on whether seeing "healthy" on a food package is a helpful indicator that nutrition lies within, with 53% feeling it's helpful and 47% indicating it's not. In fact, this claim is strictly regulated across a broad nutritional spectrum, with specific limits on its fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium content; products displaying this claim also need to have at least 10% of the recommended daily value for a range of nutrients.