Knowledge Based Bio-Economy

FLABEL

Consumers benefit from better nutritional labelling (Consumers)

Project acronym: Flabel

Title of project: Food labelling to advance better education for life

Research area: Consumers

Contract No: 211905

EU contribution: €2 860 000

Start date: August 2008

Duration: 42 months

Status: finalised

Providing information to consumers through the use of nutrition labels on food packaging is potentially a practical way of helping them choose healthier foods and diets. However, there is limited information concerning how consumers use nutrition labels in real-world shopping situations. This makes the science-based formulation of new labelling policies and the evaluation of existing ones difficult.

The FLABEL project investigated how food nutrition labelling can affect dietary choices, consumer habits and food-related health issues. This was done by developing and applying an interpretation framework incorporating information on the characteristics of the labels together with other factors and influences. Based on this interpretation framework, FLABEL has proposed guidelines on the use of nutrition labelling, aimed at both EU policy-makers and the food industry, especially SMEs.

The availability of nutrition information on food products in Europe is very high. After looking at over 37 000 products in 5 product categories across Europe, it was found that the majority (85%) of food packages have some nutrition information on the back of the pack and nearly half (48%) have nutrition information on the front of the pack.

FLABEL also found that consumers are able to understand the information presented in nutrition labels, in the sense that they have no problems in ranking food products according to their health benefits based on the label information. Variations in label format have only minor or no effects. Other potential bottlenecks, like lack of consumer motivation and lack of attention, result in poor use of nutrition labels as a guide to healthful food choices.

What kind of label would improve consumers’ attention and use of labels?

According to FLABEL data, the most promising option for increasing consumers’ attention to and use of nutrition labels would be to provide information on key nutrients and energy on the front of the pack in a consistent way. Complementing this information with a health logo can also increase interest and use, especially when the consumer is under time pressure.

The insights gained from this research can be used to develop guidelines on the use of nutrition labelling for EU policy-making and the food industry. Some policy implications discussed with different stakeholders include:

  • Considering nutrition labelling in a broader context rather than focusing solely on the label itself. Policy initiatives should consider how this slots into the “bigger picture” of nutrition education and health motivation
  • Standardising guidelines on the use of nutrition labelling. Improving the consistency and familiarity of labels could help to improve consumer use of nutrition information (widespread use of front-of-pack nutrition information would be particularly desirable)
  • Recognising the use of nutrition labelling as a major incentive for improving the quality of food products and for promoting innovation in the food sector.

Website of project: www.flabel.org/en

Contacts:

Coordinator: Laura Fernández Celemín, laura.fernandez@eufic.org

Organisation: European Food Information Council, Belgium, www.eufic.org

Partners