Is anyone reading the food labels?

The Lempert Report
July 30, 2013

When you're going out for dinner do you take note of the calories?

Well it may seem surprising but a recent study from the New York University School of Medicine shows that despite awareness, the majority of consumers do NOT regularly use calorie information on restaurant menus. Researchers looked at ten focus groups, in both English and Spanish, throughout New York City. More than half of the participants had a household income of less than $25,000 per year, and the average number of reported visits to fast food restaurants was 3.2 times per week. Most participants said that they were aware of menu food calorie labeling but rarely used it. Why? Several barriers were noted, for example, personal preference and habits. A consumer that always orders the same double cheeseburger may not even consult the menu and therefore, won’t see the nutritional information provided. Some consumers simply didn’t understand the nutritional information provided, and some understood the labels but chose to ignore them. Environmental factors were noted also. Some participants pointed to the higher price of healthier food, some said they just didn't have time to read and analyze the menu. But the most common block was interestingly, the presentation of the menu labels! Study Author, Dr. Brian Elbel says, “There is increasing evidence that how the information is presented is important in influencing food choice. It is likely that non-numeric based approaches – like symbols, exercise equivalents, and so on – could be more influential,” Retailers can take note of this information also. Clearly more education is needed to help consumers evaluate, understand and apply the information on food labels to their ordering habits. This is a good opportunity for supermarkets and grocery stores to work on presenting nutritional info in a clear and compelling format so consumers can easily understand their food choices. Supermarkets can also appeal to consumers in this way with their packaged foods, which offer a cheaper and often healthier alternative to eating out.