Roughly three-fourths of U.S. adults (76%) feel that the statement "Made with…" – as in, "Made with Whole Grains" or "Made with Real Fruit" – is a helpful signpost in navigating their way to a healthy meal. Unfortunately, they're mistaken; the fact is, these labels can be applied to anything that contains even very small amounts of the boasted content.
Majorities also find packages advertising their wares as natural, all natural or 100% natural (62%) and lightly sweetened or low sugar (60%) to be helpful in directing them toward nutritious choices. However, the FDA has never established an official definition for natural claims. Lightly sweetened and low sugar are similarly undefined, with the low sugar claim in particular sometimes drawing attention away from sweetening accomplished through other products.
Americans seem fairly clear, however, on "Guilt Free," with just over three-fourths (76%) saying it's not helpful in guiding them toward nutritious choices in the grocery store; they're right, incidentally. The claim has no legal meaning.
And the ones in the middle
Americans show mixed attitudes toward two labels which are helpful – to a point: a majority (57%) feel a "Reduced" claim – a la "Reduced Calories" or "Reduced Fat" – is an indicator of nutritious wares, while fewer than half (45%) put the same stock in claims of "Light" or "Lite." These claims are in fact both strictly regulated by the FDA, with guidelines requiring they be specific percentages lower than comparable "regular" products in fat, calories or other criteria. This does not necessarily mean the products are low in these factors though, so it's important in such cases to turn that package around and read the nutritional facts in full.
The price of nutrition
When asked which factors play roles when deciding between food products at the grocery store, cost is the top consideration no matter how you cut it:
• 52% of Americans rate it very important – at least twice as many as say the same for any other factor. Cost is followed distantly on this measure by fat (26%), sugar (24%), sodium (also 24%) and caloric (21%) content, while fewer than two in ten find the remaining factors very important.
• When asked to select the most important consideration when deciding between food products at the grocery store, roughly half of Americans (49%) point to cost. Cost is in this case followed distantly by combined (29%) mentions of fat (8%), caloric (8%), sodium (8%) and sugar (5%) content.
(Full findings, including data tables, available here)