FDA: Consumers Skeptical of Claims

March 04, 2010

FDA: Consumers Skeptical of Claims

The degree to which people want to eat healthier as this recession persists was shown in the 2010 national consumer survey done by the National Grocers Association and SupermarketGuru.com: Shoppers that “almost always” look at health claims on product packages rose seven percentage points over a year earlier to 43%. A majority (51%) “almost always” look at the type of preservatives or additives, up nine percentage points in a year. 

Their deep interest in nutrition labels – and the frustration they feel with them – has become clear with FDA’s release of a consumer study done in 2008.  One key finding: 41% of consumers believe that all or most of claims such as ‘low fat,’ ‘high fiber’ or ‘cholesterol free’ are accurate, while 56% believe that some or none of them are accurate.

That measure falls far short of trustworthy in our opinion at The Lempert Report. If anything, we feel consumer skepticism measured today would be even higher because people strained by the recession have no tolerance for purchase mistakes, and they’ve recently seen sugary items like Froot Loops be able to bear the Smart Choices label. Without credibility in food labels, people who want to eat healthier must rely on other sources and their own good sense about what to buy.

The days are gone when CPG manufacturers and retailers could put one over on consumers. Brands and stores imperil their own growth if their product labels mislead. Consumers have shown their willingness to shop differently and make alternate brand choices in this recession. If they sense a brand or store is being cagey, trust erodes and consumers will switch.

We contend the brands that win will be the ones that accurately disclose nutritional content, and even reformulate when necessary to be seen as more responsible choices within the household diet. Not every food purchase will be for optimal health, but people want to be able to decide based on the truth, clearly presented.

With regard to food labels, the FDA survey further found that:

  • 54% of consumers say they read a product’s label the first time they buy it, up 10% from 2002.
  • Among those who read the label the first time they buy it
    --66% use the label “often” to check on calories, salt, vitamins, fat and other substances
    --55% “often” use the label to get a general idea of the food’s nutritional content
    --46% “often” use the calorie information on the label; 34% rarely or never do
  • 38% use nutrient content claims often, 34% sometimes

Data are from the latest findings of the FDA Health and Diet Survey, a telephone survey of 2,500 adults in every state and the District of Columbia. It is the tenth version of the survey done since 1982.