Education of dairy product labels could improve consumer understanding

Posted: 15 July 2021 | | No comments yet

Scientists from North Carolina State suggest that a deeper understanding of the terms seen on food product labels will create a more positive perception of consumer products

consumers look at milk label

New research suggests more education is needed for consumers to understanding terminology on dairy product labels

Some consumers may have less trust in food processes that they don’t understand. Animal-based foods such as dairy products may be subject to more uninformed scrutiny, due to consumers’ perception of higher risk.

That’s according to a new study appearing in the Journal of Dairy Science, in which scientists from North Carolina State University conducted interviews with over 1,200 consumers. Their knowledge of and attitudes toward dairy processing terms, that appear on product labels, were investigated.

Only about a third of respondents reported that they always or often read labels before purchasing dairy products. This is reflected by the fact that only 24 percent of respondents were familiar with micro filtered milk, and no respondents could recall seeing the term on dairy product labels. Despite this, 20 percent of respondents expressed a negative view towards it.

“Our survey data aligns with previous work that suggests the majority of dairy product consumers find both milk and cheese healthy and natural,” corresponding author MaryAnne Drake, PhD, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, said.

“However, adding processing-related terms to ‘milk’ lowered average agreement that the resulting product was natural or healthy.” Responses suggest that although – overall – the consumers have a positive view of milk, processing terms may introduce some uncertainty.

The research team believes that providing education about processing terms could improve consumer understanding and perception of product labels. Before reading a definition of ultrafiltration and microfiltration, 83 percent of respondents were unfamiliar with the terms. After reading the definition, 97 percent indicated an understanding. Overall, the majority of participants viewed ultra-filtered and microfiltered milk positively, and were more likely to purchase these products.

“Processing-related descriptors in ingredient statements are likely to be overlooked, especially on the labels of products with which consumers already feel familiar. However, consumers may express caution when they are made aware of unfamiliar processing terms,” said Drake.

Overall, the study suggests that educating the consumers on processing-related terms in a simpler way could increase positive perception, meaning that on-package education should continue to be investigated further.

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