May 27, 2016
Nutrition Facts Label Gets a Face Lift...But Will Consumers Notice?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on May 20, 2016, changes to the 20-year-old Nutrition Facts label, which include font size change as well as new pieces of information required by food manufacturers in 2018. Among the changes are making "Calories" a much larger font than the rest of the label as well as now requiring an "Added Sugars" line to call out sugars that were placed in the product through the manufacturing process. The FDA probably had the best of intentions with these changes but the question is whether or not consumers will even take note of these changes.
For each of the last 10 years, more adults told us through our Dieting Monitor that they don't even look at the Nutrition Facts label; about a quarter of adults now claim they never to look at the panel. This increase could in part be attributed to the lack of news on the panel for the last two decades. It's almost like living in a big city for a long time with noise at all hours - you know it's there but you just don't pay attention to it anymore! So perhaps the label is more than ripe for change, but is making calories larger going to do it?
Over the last decade it was the top item adults looked at on the label, and since we've been told "calories in, calories out" during that time, why shouldn't consumers have done that? However, I've always had the sense that consumers aren't sure of the total calorie count they should consume on a daily basis. When restaurants began placing calorie counts on their menus, we saw little to no changes in behaviors. I believe it's because consumers don't have a relative yard stick against which they can apply the calorie number to know if it's too high. Think of it like this, the rest of the world uses the metric system, so if someone from a foreign country were to land in the U.S. and were told by the captain it's 30 degrees Fahrenheit, their first question might be, "is that hot or cold?" In case you're wondering, 30F = -1C and that's cold in my book!
Where we might see interest among consumers is with the Added Sugars line. Already we've seen consumers say that sugars are now the number one item they want to cut out of their diets replacing fats. This intention has also been followed by behaviors - over the last decade consumers are eating fewer sugary drinks and ice cream, and more bottled water, savory snacks, and "better-for-you" snacks like fruit and yogurt. But the other reason I think this number might be eye-opening for consumers is that they don't need to understand if the total number is high or low but they can see it in relation to the naturally occurring sugars. For example, if the Total Sugars line is 15g and the added sugars line as 12g, they can see the product naturally has very few grams of sugar and that nearly all the sugar in the product was added by the manufacturer.
As with most things, time will tell if the new label will have a result on our behaviors. As I always say in my talks, our consumption patterns move but very slowly so when these changes take effect in 2018 we should monitor behaviors for several years before we can say for sure if consumers are changing their ways.