What stands out on a label?

With nearly 400,000 items in every grocery store (Food Marketing Institute), there are hundreds of different ways a packaged food can be labeled. Editor A. Elizabeth Sloan gathers statistics about what language on food labels consumers are looking for in the May 2013 issue of Food Technology magazine.

Here are the top 10 things consumers look for when it comes to buying food:

  • Eight in 10 consumers look for "fresh" descriptors when shopping for foods and say that they find those foods "slightly/much more tasty." (Technomic 2012, Healthy Eating Consumer Trend Report). Frozen, Canned, and dry food marketers are calling out products made from fresh ingredients on their labels. Other keywords include: seasonal, real, made-by-hand, made-from-scratch, and authentic.
  • The most-read label on foods is the expiration date, read by 75 percent of shoppers, followed by the nutrition facts panel, ingredient list, front-of-pack , icon or graphic, and the brand name (International Food Information Council).
  • Consumers are also drawn towards packages that tout a convenience benefit like microwaveable, ready-to-use, on-the-go, bite-sized, hand-held, kid-targeted, and foods that have the serving dish included (IRI).
  • One in five consumers regularly eat frozen foods and are drawn to ones labeled microwaveable, natural, quick, single-serving, and upscale (Packaged Facts, 2012).
  • One-quarter (27 percent) of the most successful new products last year offered labels that claim health benefits like: 100 percent real, a good source of vitamins and minerals, less calories/sugar, more natural/organic, a good source of protein, fiber/whole grain, and less reduced/no fat (IRI).
  • Two-thirds of consumers looked for descriptions with no in 2012, 56 percent sought out unprocessed or , 52 percent preservative or hormone-free, and 40 percent antibiotic-free (Technomic).
  • Many consumers are looking to buy food for a specific nutritional ingredient like , high fiber, a full serving of fruit, high in protein, high in calcium, antioxidants, omega-3s, probiotics, and more (Packaged Facts, 2013).
  • Consumers prefer labels that convey a balanced approach to health, rather than buying goods that suggest something is missing from the food like "light" or "guiltless" (Technomic).
  • Over half of consumers frequently/occasionally buy or beverages that target a specific health concern like cholesterol-lowering, weight loss, blood pressure, digestive health, and more (Packaged Facts, 2013)
  • Ethical concerns also continue to attract a growing number of looking for products with labels that say "farm raised," "cage-free," "grass-fed," "sustainable," and "fair trade" (Technomic).

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