Can changing food packaging improve product nutrition quality?
Researchers from Illinois State University, North Carolina State University, University of South Carolina, and University of Maryland looked at the influence FOC nutrition labels have on brands.
Researchers from the United States examined the impact of Front-of-Package (FOP) food nutrition labels to see what difference – if any – they made to consumers’ buying habits.
Diet-related chronic diseases are a growing burden on Western societies’ healthcare systems. In the US, the American diet has favoured calorie dense diets, which offer lower nutritional value, more and more. Over one third of US adults are now obese, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Moreover, in the last 30 years, child obesity has become more common, with one in five school-aged children considered obese.
To help tackle this disconcerting trend, efforts from industry and policy makers have been enacted. One such example is the Front-of-Package (FOP) nutrition label, and it is here that the US team focused their research.
How FOC impacts food brands
The study assessed the effect of the introduction of a FOP nutrition label in a product category on the nutritional quality of food products in the category.
The team found that the adoption of such labelling results in a significant improvement in the nutritional quality of food products within its category. They also discovered that the impact of FOP is stronger for premium brands and those with a narrower product line breadth.
Moreover, the study concluded that FOP adoption effect is stronger for unhealthy categories and categories with a higher competitive intensity; and revealed that most manufacturers increase the nutritional quality of products by reducing the calorie content and limiting nutrients such as sugar, sodium and saturated fat.
“This implies that policy makers, in partnership with food manufacturers and retailers, should encourage adoption of voluntary, standardised, and transparent labelling programmes and consider options for broadening the information presented in FOP labels,” noted Joon Ho Lim, one of the study’s authors. “We believe that policy makers should also invest in educational campaigns that inform consumers about the value of FOP labels and that would further incentivise food manufacturers to offer nutritionally better products.”
Based on these findings, the researchers suggest that food manufacturers dedicate significant resources to product innovation in order to remain competitive. Specifically, the US team believe that manufacturers in unhealthy and more competitive categories can be more strategic, investing in innovation so that they are ready to provide better products following FOP adoption.
They also encourage retailers to devote time and money into employing measures that help monitor and track sales of products with FOP labels and offer this feedback to their manufacturers regularly. This, they say, will speed up the competitive effect of FOP labels.
Interestingly, the study found that the brands which employed FOP labelling offer nutritionally superior products than those that did not adopt such methods. This result is particularly helpful for busy consumers looking to purchase relatively healthier products.