Food In Canada

Consumers are confused about food product labels

By Food in Canada staff   

Business Operations Food Trends Research & Development

A Nielsen study finds nutrition facts tables on food products confuse consumers around the world, opening up opportunities for processors

New York – Results from a new global survey may force the food industry to look at how information is presented on nutritional labels on food packaging.

The Nielsen Global Survey of Food Labeling Trends shows that 59 per cent of consumers around the world have difficulty understanding nutritional labels.

At the same time, the results show that consumers are looking to eat more healthfully. Approximately half of them (48 per cent) are trying to lose weight and of those more than three quarters (78 per cent) are trying to lose weight through dieting. More than half (53 per cent) consider themselves overweight.

Nielsen says the food industry has an opportunity to help consumers, especially since consumer-friendly nutritional labelling can also be a powerful marketing tool.


The survey polled more than 25,000 consumers in 56 countries throughout Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America.

Label confusion

Nielsen’s study shows that:

• 59 per cent of consumers around the world have difficulty understanding nutritional facts on food packaging;
• 52 per cent understand the labels “in part;”
• 41 per cent of global respondents “mostly” understand nutritional labels, which is down from 44 per cent in a 2008 Nielsen report; and
• 7 per cent say they do not understand nutritional labels at all.

The study found that consumers

• in North America show the most confidence in understanding nutritional labels, with more than half (57 per cent) indicating they mostly understand the information;
• 58 per cent of U.S. respondents report mostly understanding the information; and
• 49 per cent of Canadians report mostly understanding the information.

In contrast, consumers in Asia Pacific show the lowest level of nutritional label understanding, with less than one-third (31 per cent) mostly understanding nutritional information. Nielsen’s survey results show that food label confusion is highest in the Chinese-speaking world and other Southeast Asian markets, with greater levels of understanding in India, Australia and New Zealand.

European consumers are split, with 45 per cent reporting a strong understanding of nutritional labels. Sixty per cent of Portuguese respondents largely understand nutritional labels, the highest reported country in the study. French consumers are the least likely to understand nutritional information, with 31 per cent indicating full comprehension.

Health claim skepticism

Nielsen’s study shows that global respondents are skeptical about the accuracy and believability of health claims found on food packaging, such as “low fat” and “all natural.” Across 10 nutritional content categories studied, at least more than two-thirds of global respondents indicate they believe the nutritional claims are either never or only sometimes trustworthy.

Calorie count claims are the most trusted, with 33 per cent of respondents believing calorie count claims are always accurate, and 58 per cent finding them sometimes accurate. Vitamin and fat-content are the second and third most trusted claims, respectively.

On average, 15 per cent of global respondents rate less-defined claims such as “freshness” and “heart-healthy” as “always accurate.” Nearly 80 per cent of consumers surveyed indicate either never or only sometimes considering these assertions as believable.

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