Sixteen years after the Nutrition Facts labels were put on the back of nearly every food and beverage in stores, and beginning Jan. 1, 2012 will be added to meat and poultry packages, interest in reading the nutrition facts label has steadily waned among U.S. households, according to food market research by The NPD Group.
The Nutrition Facts labels were required to be added to food packaging in 1994 as a result of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990. The information on the label includes serving size, calories, nutrients—total fat (saturated and trans fat), cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron along with the Percent Daily Values for each. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which administers the NLEA, is currently reviewing guidelines for front-of-pack labeling, which up to now has not been regulated. On Jan. 24, the food industry issued its own guidelines for front-of-pack labeling.
Through its National Eating Trends service, which on a daily basis for the past 30 years has monitored the eating and drinking habits of U.S. consumers, NPD asks consumers their level of agreement with the statement, “I frequently check labels to determine whether the foods I buy contain anything I’m trying to avoid.” In 1990, after the NLEA was passed, 65% of consumers completely or mostly agreed with the statement, that percentage decreased to 60% in 1994 shortly before the Nutrition Facts labels began appearing on food packaging, and rose to 64% in 1995 after the labels were on food packaging. Since 1995, the percentages of consumers in agreement have ranged from a high of 61% to a low of 50%.
NPD also tracks what consumers usually look for when they do read the Nutrition Facts label. According to NPD’s Dieting Monitor, which examines top-of-mind dieting and nutrition-related issues facing consumers, the top five items consumers who read the label look for are, consecutively, calories, total fat, sugar, sodium, and calories from fat.
“If there is one clear message that consumers are trying to send, it’s that the label has grown tired and uninteresting,” said Harry Balzer, Chief Industry Analyst at NPD. “All good marketers want to keep their packaging contemporary, and that should include the nutrition facts information.”