The online nationally representative survey of 1,000 New Zealanders was commissioned by Auckland-based food marketing agency Impact PR and conducted by survey firm Perceptive Research in July 2011.
It found that consumers were confused about what labels actually revealed, with almost 58 per cent of respondents saying that food labels were hard to understand. Also, 53 per cent of respondents believed that food manufacturers do not provide enough information on their labels.
“Food manufacturers need to review their approach to labelling and look to take advantage of other forms of media to educate and inform their consumers. This might include websites and even smartphone applications capable of scanning barcodes,” said Mark Devlin, director of Impact PR.
Survey participants felt that more information is needed on food labels, particularly country of origin and manufacturer details with 42 per cent stating this preference. This was followed by health benefits at 24 per cent and fat content at 16 per cent.
Country of origin was more important to older people, particularly those aged 45 and above, and health benefits more so for those under 35, the survey said.
Suitability of food for those with allergies/gluten intolerance was listed at nine per cent and a further five per cent called for more information on product suitability for diabetics.
Four per cent of consumers also indicated they were interested in more information on product suitability for pregnant women and children, the survey said.
Industry body says labels are sufficient
However, Katherine Rich, chief executive of the New Zealand Food and Grocery Council (NFGC), the research and survey results do not add any further insight to the ongoing current discussion about product labelling.
According to Rich, the issue of consumer attitudes to labelling is inherently extremely difficult to research accurately, because what respondents say and their actual use of the information on labels in-store or at home is significantly different.
“New Zealanders are smart people and most could understand what’s on a food label – that’s if they are interested in the first place and look at it,” said Rich.
Rich added that with the limited real estate presented by a product label, manufacturers cannot incorporate the extensive wish-list of information to meet each and every consumer’s interests.
“This is why regulators such as the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Standards Australia and New Zealand tend to regulate to cover health and safety issues, not consumer values issues. This is an approach we support,” said Rich.
Rich pointed out that while this research says people want more information, other studies have shown the consumers are happy with the amount of information on a label.
“Often labelling is seen as the silver bullet to solve New Zealand’s obesity issue. It isn’t. Labels won’t change personal behaviour. Only individuals can do that,” she added.