Ecolabels Don’t Influence Consumer Food Choice, Study Says


by | Feb 21, 2014

food-labels-smallConsumers are concerned about sustainability, but their understanding is limited and ecolabels rarely influence food purchases, according to a study by the European Food Information Council.

The “Sustainability labels on food products: Consumer motivation, understanding and use study,” which surveyed 4,408 respondents living in the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden and Poland.  says consumers have a medium to high-level of concern with sustainability issues at a general level. That level of concern—and understanding—falls when it comes to making food and beverage choices.

The study, which was published in Food Policy, tested environmental and ethical aspects against nutritional value and price and found sustainability had no meaningful impact on food choice, across all product categories.

Consumer awareness of sustainability labels is generally low, but varies across the countries involved in the study, the study says. The Fair Trade Label has the highest recognition and understanding among consumers, compared to the Rainforest Alliance, the Carbon Footprint (working with the Carbon Trust) and the Animal Welfare logos.

On average, UK consumers correctly identified more than half of the four ecolabels shown (pictured), while the majority of Spanish and Polish survey respondents barely recognized more than one label.

Out of six categories—chocolate, coffee, ice cream, breakfast cereals, ready meals and soft drinks—consumers only showed concern about sustainability for coffee and ready meals.

Researchers says the results don’t necessarily imply that sustainability information will not play a role in future food purchases. However, compared to health and nutrition-related issues, sustainability is more difficult to grasp and, as a result, it struggles to be relevant in a consumer’s mindset during purchases.

Last month, the Coca-Cola Company, General Mills, Kraft Foods and the other 300-plus food companies that are members of the Grocery Manufacturers Association said they plan to lobby the US food safety regulator and Congress for a single federal standard covering oversight and labeling of new genetically modified foods.

The legislation would mandate consistent labeling of non-GMO and GMO foods, cancel out state laws not identical to the federal law, allow GMO foods to be labeled as “natural,” and require biotech crop developers to notify the FDA before introducing a new genetically engineered crop — it’s currently voluntary — among other provisions.

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