Are Consumers Blind To Ingredient Information?

The Lempert Report
November 10, 2015

New research shows that very few consumers look at on pack ingredients for health information.

According to a new study, commissioned by Unilever and published in Appetite, consumers pay ‘much less’ attention to ingredient lists than they do to self-reported preferences.

This new research tested the amount of attention consumers actually pay to ingredient information on food packaging – and whether this information plays a role in the way consumers evaluate the naturalness of a food. Researchers came to the conclusion that the trend for ‘clean labels’ (those that contain few additives) may not actually have a large impact on consumers evaluation of how natural foods are. 

Led by Tracy Cheung from Utrecht University, researchers looked at what they call Choiceblindness.  Meaning they assessed whether participants would detect a minor change to the naturalness of the ingredient list when asked. Cheung and her colleagues reported that only a low proportion of participants detected the swap of ingredient lists at all. Results led the team to conclude that overwhelmingly, consumers don’t really pay attention to products’ ingredient list unless specifically directed towards it.

For retailers this study is interesting to take into consideration when thinking about what shoppers focus on when they chose products. Increasingly shoppers are interested in making healthy, better for you purchases but perhaps don’t always know what ingredients to look for or perhaps are just too swayed by their own ideas or package claims. Supermarkets should guide customers by helping them understand and evaluate ingredient lists. Either by in house nutritionists or knowledgeable employees or tips printed out on the shelves alongside products that are healthy, natural, organic etc. Retailers should be looking to make sure shoppers are educated and making the right choices.