A survey by Spanish consumers association OCU (Organización de Consumidores y Usuarios) of almost 1,000 people aged 18 to 79 showed that 44% of consumers pay close attention to the label when buying a food product for the first time. 47% said they glanced at it while 9% did not read it at all.
Of the 9% who did not read the food labelling, almost half - mainly older people - complained that it is difficult to understand the nutritional information that comes on the packaging.
Among those who gave the labels a quick look, three in 10 said it takes too long to read it completely or the information is too difficult to understand. However, the main reason for ignoring food labelling is the font size. Over half the people said the lettering was too small. The difficulty reading the labels increases with age.
Regulations set a minimum font size of 1.2mm for food labels; this is reduced to 0.9 mm for very small containers. These sizes can often be too small when printed on glossy plastic or with little contrast between the font and the background. As a result, OCU has requested the Spanish Agency for Food Safety (Aesan) to work with the European authorities to increase the size of the lettering on food labelling, up to 3mm.
They have also asked the health authorities to use a more legible font, make it less crowded and with sufficient contrast with the colour of the background. They believe that essential information, such as the expiry date and Nutriscore, should be displayed in a prominent place and not have to compete for space with advertising messages.
In addition to this, OCU has asked the Ministry of Consumption to carry out a campaign that distinguishes the meaning of the expiration date from that of preferential consumption, since 41% of those surveyed are still not unclear about the difference.
The OCU study found when buying food for the first time, 82% of consumers usually check the best-before date. The list of ingredients is next with 69% with the nutritional information third with 51%. The survey found young people under 40 tend to look more at the nutritional table and claims about nutritional benefits. For people over 40, the cooking instructions, food preservation and health benefits are more important.
Over 60s highlighted the importance of expiry dates and the origin of the product.
In general, women look more than men at the nutritional information, cooking instructions, promotions, sustainability information and how to recycle packaging.
Sugar content is the information most consulted, particularly by older consumers, while the number of calories is looked at most by young people and women.
Seven out of 10 respondents are influenced by the nutritional benefits in their decision to buy the product. The slogans 'low fat’, ‘low salt’, and ‘high fibre’ can be decisive in buying a product.
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