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Back to Qualitative Data

Impact of Front-of-Package Labelling on Food Choices and Purchasing Behaviour

Front-of-package labelling systems have been proposed as an approach to guide healthier food choices at the point of purchase. However, it is inconclusive whether front-of-package labels influence consumer purchasing behaviour.

Highlights

  • There is insufficient information on the impact of front-of-package labelling systems on food choices and dietary intake;
  • Findings from a limited number of studies do not support that the use of front-of-package labelling effectively influences consumer behaviour.

The evidence concerning the effect of front-of-package labelling on food choices and purchasing behaviour is limited. While front-of-package labels may play a role in the perceived healthiness of certain food items, few studies have evaluated the impact of front-of-package labelling on consumer behaviour in a real-life setting. Some of the studies suggest that the use of such labelling systems does not influence consumer behaviour.

For more information, see Consumer perception and understanding of front-of-package nutrition labelling.

The Evidence

A 2013 systematic review by Hawley et al. was inconclusive as to whether the use of front-of-package labels influenced consumer behaviour. This was due to the lack of real-world studies that evaluate sales data and consumer behaviour in response to front-of-package labelling.1

Another systematic review published in 2013 assessed the effect of front-of-package labelling systems on consumers. Mixed results were obtained from relatively few studies regarding the influence of front-of-package labelling on consumers’ likelihood to select healthier foods and adopt healthier diets.2

The systematic reviews included the following findings:

  • · A randomized experimental study of 420 adults in Germany found that the use of front-of-package labels on various food items, including dairy products such as yogurt, cheese and chocolate milk, did not have an effect on daily food consumption, even after adjusting for different subject characteristics. The study concluded that the healthiness of food, as perceived through food labels, is unlikely to influence food choices and consumption.3
  • In a study by Sacks et al., the impact of front-of-package "traffic light" labelling on consumer food purchases was examined. The results indicated that "traffic light" labels had no discernible effect on the healthiness of consumer purchases.4

The American Heart Association published a 2012 Scientific Statement on population approaches to improve diet. Based on their systematic review, the authors concluded that “In sum, there is limited evidence that (…) front-of-pack product labels or icons, or point-of purchase listing of calories or specific nutrients, have consistent meaningful effects on dietary behaviours of consumers. (…) There is limited evidence that these labels or icons produce actual dietary change or alter other diet-related risk factors, especially over the long-term”.5

In contrast, a between-group experimental study evaluated the efficacy of four types of front-of-package sodium labels at influencing consumers’ selection of crackers. Compared to the control group, those assigned to front-of-package labels with ‘high/low’ sodium descriptors were more likely to choose lower-sodium crackers.6

Conclusion

To date, it is inconclusive whether the use of front-of-package labelling has an effect on food choices and purchasing behaviour. Most studies do not support that front-of-package labels have a substantial impact on consumer behaviour.

Findings from some studies suggest that certain types of labels may have an effect on the choice of specific products. However, generalizability is limited with regards to all front-of-package labelling systems as well as to the wide variety of food products available on the market.

Moreover, the numerous types of front-of-package labelling systems have not all been evaluated. More studies conducted in real-life settings are needed to fully clarify whether the use of front-of-package labelling influences food choices and dietary intake.

Keywords: nutrition labelling


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