Product packaging can have huge influence on healthier choices, study finds

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Product packaging and labelling can have a profound influence on consumers’ ability to make healthy purchasing decisions, according to research from private label software specialist Trace One. 

Its TNS-commissioned study of 2,033 British consumers, found over 80% of consumers stated packaging could mislead them to make unhealthy food purchases. With 65% of consumers admitting packaging and labelling impacts their purchasing decision, it is perhaps unsurprising 83% said food and drink packaging has a role to play in tackling the obesity crisis, Trace One said.

Nick Martin, SVP Northern Europe at Trace One, said: “These results are both proof and a warning of packaging’s power. While we know packaging is important for the retail industry, that means it can be linked with both good and bad results such as, in this case, the nation’s obesity problem. Retailers and manufacturers need to ensure their packaging isn’t even partly to blame for such developments. Instead, packaging should be as clear and accurate as possible so consumers cannot believe they are being misled.”

Despite a perception women are more health conscious than men, both sexes placed equal importance on packaging’s role in tackling Britain’s health problems, researchers found. However, there are noticeable differences in opinion based on age. Younger age groups (16-34) place more importance on packaging influencing their purchasing decisions (75% of 16-24s and 76% of 25-34s), whereas in the oldest age group (55-64) just 47% make this claim. This suggests packaging has a greater influence on younger consumers, making them more likely to make unhealthy choices if packaging is inaccurate, unclear or otherwise misleading, said Trace One.

The study also reveals consumers find label information such as the Traffic Light System and Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) tables confusing, making working out nutritional values and so making healthier purchasing decisions too time consuming. As such, 85% of consumers want an industry-wide standard to be introduced across the packaging and labelling industry to improve clarity and consistency, as well as provide more accurate information on products.

Martin said: “It’s good to see the majority of consumers are calling for a more standardised packaging and labelling process. If this is developed, it will help eliminate confusing packaging and more clearly communicate which products are healthier than others. This in turn will help retailers to really make a difference when it comes to tackling the nation’s obesity crisis. However, redesigning packaging to meet these changes, as well as constantly evolving legislation within the industry that demands compliance, can be a significant burden for retailers in terms of complexity and the time and cost it takes to design and develop packaging. As a result, retailers will need to simplify these processes as much as possible.”

The survey also highlights how different consumer groups are affected by the level of detail and accuracy within packaging information. Sixty nine per cent of respondents claim allergy sufferers are more restricted when buying food they can trust is safe, as retailers are often over-cautious about allergen labelling. General statements like ‘may contain nuts’ regardless of actual ingredients cover the retailer, but risk limiting product choice for allergy sufferers who must err on the side of caution.

Martin said: “Along with the link between packaging and the nation’s health, the research suggests, for retailers, beating the competition is no longer just about price. Instead, packaging can be used as a key brand differentiator and can help retailers demonstrate their innovation and product quality. In addition, the industry should focus on presenting more ranges to suit different consumer groups such as allergen sufferers and they can do this through private label development.”