3 August 2005
Half the world’s consumers understand the nutritional labels on food packaging only ‘in part’, just two in 10 ‘always’ check grocery labels, four in 10 do so only when buying a product for the first time and nearly three in 10 check them when buying certain food types, according to a study released today by ACNielsen, the world’s leading marketing research and information company.
The twice-yearly global ACNielsen Online Consumer Opinion Survey, the largest of its kind, polled over 21,100 respondents in 38 markets from Europe, Asia Pacific, North America, Latin America and South Africa. The study asked consumers around the world how much they understand food labeling, when they would check labels and what they check for as they do their grocery shopping.
On average, one-fifth of consumers in Asia Pacific, Europe and North America ‘always’ check the nutritional labels on packaging, with Latin Americans the most label-minded, where a third of consumers claim to ‘always’ check labels on packaged food. The most likely occasion for checking the nutritional label, not surprisingly, for an average of four in 10 consumers worldwide, was when trying a product for the first time.
In Singapore, less than two in 10 consumers take a consistent interest in the nutritional labels of the packaged food they buy, while those who do are only concerned under specific circumstances. Findings revealed that the majority of local consumers are interested in the nutritional information of a product particularly when they are buying a certain type of food (43%) and when they are considering purchasing a product for the first time (42%). Others claimed to check nutritional values when they are on a diet or are trying to lose weight (22%), when they have the time (16%), and when their children are consuming the food (12%). However, for seven per cent of the population, the content in their packaged food is of no interest!
“For manufacturers of packaged goods, the product’s nutritional proposition and the clarity of the information on the nutrition panel is important at the point of product trial. Whether the product ‘contents’ meet the consumers’ selection criteria, and how easily the label is understood, can determine whether or not the consumer proceeds to purchase the product, or return it to the shelf,” said Mr Ashok Charan, Managing Director of ACNielsen Research Singapore.
Across Asia Pacific, Thailand (41%), India (32%) and Malaysia (29%) made the world’s top ten countries where people claimed to “always” check food labels. At the other end of the scale, those most likely to ‘never’ check food labels were the Japanese (24%), followed by the Finnish (15%) and Dutch (14%).
And while consumers are checking labels, they don’t necessarily understand what they’re reading. Half of the world’s consumers said they only ‘partly’ understand the nutritional labels on food, with 60% of Asia Pacific’s residents leading the world in this lack of understanding, followed by Europeans (50%) and Latin Americans (45%). Most conversant with food labeling were the North Americans, with 64 percent claiming to ‘mostly’ understand food panels.
Out of the 13 Asia Pacific countries, New Zealand was the only country making it into the world top 10 list of understanding food labels, with 61 percent of Kiwis claiming to ‘mostly’ understand information on food labels. The percentage of consumers who claimed not to understand food labels at all vary from one per cent in Thailand to 12 per cent in Japan. In Singapore, six percent of locals admitted to being totally ignorant of food labels, placing it on par with the regional average. On the other hand, almost four in 10 are familiar with food labels, while more than one in two only understands them partly.
Globally, the ingredients most likely to be checked for by consumers were Fat (49%), Calories (43%), Sugar (42%), Preservatives (40%), Coloring and Additives (36% each). Not surprisingly among the five regions surveyed, consumers in North America and Latin America topped the list for most regularly checking out Fat, Calories and Sugar levels. This trend is similar in Singapore, although two out of the top three items varied for Asia Pacific as a whole.
While Preservatives (47%), Fat (45%), and Coloring (43%), garnered the most attention from Asia Pacific consumers, it is Fat (50%), Calories (42%), and Sugar (40%) that Singaporeans are most interested in and claimed to check these on their food labels regularly. (Chart 4)
Further, when asked whether they knew the distinct difference between Saturated and Unsaturated Fat, a global average of 56 percent claimed to, which was fairly consistent across all regions surveyed. On the other hand, among the top 10 markets claiming not to know the difference, the Japanese ranked number one (73%) followed by two thirds of the French (69%), Taiwanese (63%) and Chinese (61%).
Compared to the rest of the Asia Pacific countries, Singaporeans appear to be more ‘well-informed’ when it comes to knowing the difference between Saturated and Unsaturated Fats. More than 6 in ten consumers (66%) here are aware of the distinction between these two Fat types, making it the third country, after Thailand and New Zealand, where 68 percent of consumers can differentiate them.
“Consumers the world over are screening out products containing ingredients they consider to be unhealthy for them, and making their own personal decisions about levels of fat, sugar, etc. In developing markets, consumers appear to be more concerned about preservatives and additives than they are about calories, while in developed markets consumer focus is on screening out products with contents that make them gain weight, and may reflect the obesity battle being faced in a number of these markets,” said Mr Charan.
Despite all the hype about the Atkins and other low-carb diets, consumers appear to be more interested in screening out other ingredients first, with a global average of just 28 percent claiming to check for the amount of carbohydrates on labels. Carbs were of most interest to Latin Americans (44%) and North Americans (37%).
And the latest diet craze, the Low GI diet (Glycemic Index), registered for only 11 percent of consumers globally, lead by South Africans (17%) and Latin Americans (22%). Only eight percent of North Americans checked for Low GI on labels.
Phil Lempert, a food trends analyst and ACNielsen consultant in the U.S., said some of the findings can be attributed to what information is currently available on product labels.
“Relatively few people check the glycemic index because very few companies are including the information on the labels of products sold. But that will soon change. The glycemic index is set to become the next big thing in the food industry because it takes carbohydrates to the next level – from the amount of carbs a product contains to the impact that the carb level will have on a person’s weight and energy.”
Indeed, when asked whether they had heard about the GI, 59 percent of global consumers claimed not to have heard of it, and only 34% across Asia Pacific. However, of the top 10 markets to have heard of the GI, Australia ranked number one (82%), followed by Korea (80%) and New Zealand (76%), suggesting that the diet craze is generating publicity in some countries more than others. The majority of Singaporeans are still oblivious of this new diet fad—only one in four claimed to have heard about it.
ACNielsen, a VNU business, is the world's leading marketing information provider. Offering services in more than 100 countries, the unit provides measurement and analysis of marketplace dynamics and consumer attitudes and behavior. Clients rely on ACNielsen's market research, proprietary products, analytical tools and professional service to understand competitive performance, to uncover new opportunities and to raise the profitability of their marketing and sales campaigns. To learn more, visit www.acnielsen.com.
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