What Would Make You Stop and Smell the Roses? Front-of-Pack Labeling?

By: Elizabeth Rahavi, RD   Date: 11/3/10

There are thousands of choices available when we shop for food in a grocery store and if you are anything like me then you are a creature of habit, with a repertoire of foods that you commonly select, trip after trip. My habits don't mean that I'm not adventurous or that I don't enjoy trying new foods, but I often find myself crunched for time when I shop and let my recipes for the week guide my choices. I believe that having a list when I shop is key to staying on budget and planning for my weekly meals. While planning is integral to my weekly grocery trips, I do add new foods to my cart from time to time, but what exactly causes me to make additions, I haven't the faintest idea. What leads me to stop and smell the roses, long enough to try a new product?

Let's Move You Into To Trying Something New
The First Lady through her Let's Move initiative wants to help parents encourage healthful eating and increase physical activity. In the White House Task Force Report on Childhood Obesity to the President, a recommendation was made to develop a front-of-pack labeling program that could be used to help parents quickly identify healthier choices in the grocery store. The front-of-pack system would act as a flag helping parents quickly decipher health information while shopping in the grocery store and deciding on new products to try. 

Coming Up With a System
Over the past few years a number of front-of-pack labeling systems have been introduced into the marketplace to help people make more nutritious food and beverage choices. However, understanding what system might positively impact consumers the most is not clear. Last week, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) Committee that was established to evaluate front-of-pack nutrition rating and symbols, continued their investigation into front-of-pack labeling options. This phase will consider the merits of a single unified front-of-pack system regulated by the Food and Drug Administration; assess which icons resonate with various audiences; and recommend both a system or icon that best promotes healthful consumer choices with maximize use.

Consumer research findings on front-of-pack labeling were presented, which all came to various conclusions about what system might help consumers the most. While it remains to be seen what the IOM Committee will ultimately recommend, it is interesting to note that the Nutrition Facts Panel was seen as a trusted resource by consumers in a number of the different studies that were presented. This finding is in line with what we found in our annual International Food Information Council Foundation Food & Health survey. When asked, what sources of information do you use most often to guide your food and health practices, 62% of consumers cited the food label.

Challenges Remain
Over the years the food label has become a trusted source for food and nutrition information. However, while people are aware of the food label, life can often get in the way of their ability to use it every time they shop for food. The benefit of a front-of-pack labeling system would be to provide nutrition information in such a way that it is easily seen by consumers. Perhaps this quick flag might help some of us to stop and smell the roses more often and make more informed food and beverage choices.

What do you think? Will front-of-pack labeling help you in your effort to build a better diet?