What’s in a label?

Evaluating the impact of new front of package labels on Canadians’ c-store buying decisions.
Kathy Perrotta
VP Ipsos Canada

On-package labels are the identity cards of most food and beverage products reporting item ingredient composition, nutrient amounts, product and processing origins and freshness dates.

Label flashes, ingredient labels and the NFt panel (Nutrition Facts Table) are filled with information to inform us what the food contains and to provide guidance in making healthier selections of processed foods.

The information is also intended to help consumers become savvy in aligning food and beverage choices with personal dietary needs, beliefs and perceptions.

Ipsos FIVE Consumption Tracking Study latest monthly data reveals that more than six in 10 (61%) consumers regularly consult on-package labels.  Among those reading labels, calories, sugar and carbohydrates are top priorities, while protein focus has increased notably since 2020.

However, all the numbers, percentages, and sometimes complex-sounding ingredients can lead to more confusion than clarity.  Information overload can also breed indifference and distrust particularly with conflicting data points. 

Recent tracking from Ipsos revealed that more than one in 10 consumers (11%) currently either don’t trust on-package food and beverage labels or are annoyed by detail. 

With transparency and commitment to efficacy desired brand traits to win with Canadians, it is important to communicate your message clearly and authentically, particularly as label consulting rates have also dipped 10% versus the pre-pandemic period.

Beyond skepticism, lower label-reading rates could, in part, be driven by the fact that three-quarters (75%) of adults already report that they are aware of product nutrition on the items that they consume.

With on-package complexity on the rise, label-reading rates softening and product awareness already high, what will be the impact of new front-of-package (FOP) labels recently introduced by Health Canada warning of high sodium, high sugar, and/or high saturated fat content?

FIVE tracking reflects that FOP labels will have an impact on both buying decisions and further consultation habits. Two-thirds (67%) of adults report that the warnings will impact their decision to buy the item, with a similar rate reporting that this detail will prompt further NFt and product ingredient label consultation.

Digging deeper into future shopping impacts to result from FOP labels reveals that, among those buying foods or beverages at both convenience and gas outlets, as well as dollar stores, warning impacts will be lower. However, there remains a sizeable share (59%), who report that their buying decisions will be influenced by new details.

No matter which side of the label debate you land on, it’s intriguing to consider how daily visibility of warnings will impact future purchasing habits.  Will concerns continue to rise prompting action or will shoppers become weary, impatient and apathetic?

As our concepts around ‘what is healthy’ evolve from evaluating products for their literal and symbolic goodness in the pursuit of nutrient density, to elevating our understanding of benefits and their impact on well-being, one question remains.

Will we adhere to the advice of governments and other institutional authorities through initiatives like FOP labels or will we rely on and embrace personally assessed and individually curated information to inform wholesomeness of choices favourable to the health of our minds, bodies and souls?

Only time will tell.

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