Nutrition Facts labeled appeared on the back of nearly every food and beverage in stores 20 years ago. But interest in reading those labels has seen a steady decline among U.S. households, The NPD Group reports. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is currently proposing updates to the Nutrition Facts label to make it more relevant to today’s consumers, but according to NPD’s ongoing food and beverage market research, the changes may not maintain consumer’s interests in the long run. Consumers read the original labels when the first appeared but as time went on many stopped looking to see what was in their food, NPD officials say.
Through its National Eating Trends service, which has monitored the eating and drinking habits of U.S. consumers daily over the past 30 years, NPD asks consumers to state their level of agreement with the following statement: “I frequently check labels to determine whether the foods I buy contain anything I’m trying to avoid.” In 1990, after the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) was passed, 65% of consumers completely or mostly agreed with the statement. However that percentage decreased to 60% in 1994 shortly before the Nutrition Facts labels began appearing on food packaging then rose to 64% in 1995 after the labels were on food packaging. Since 1995, the percentages of consumers in agreement have ranged from a high of 61% to a low of 48% in 2013.
“The most likely reason for this decline is that the effort succeeded in educating Americans about what’s in their food,” says Harry Balzer, NPD chief industry analyst and author of Eating Patterns in America. “After all, how many times do you need to look at the Nutrition Facts label on your favorite cereal, or your favorite juice, and any other food you routinely consume?”
NPD also tracks what consumers usually look for when they do read the Nutrition Facts label. According to their Dieting Monitor which examines top-of-mind dieting and nutrition-related issues facing consumers, the top five items label readers look are, in consecutive order, calories, sugar, sodium, fat and carbohydrates.
“It’s a safe bet that Americans now want more information, but be careful, there are always new issues that come up every few years,” says Balzer. “If the Nutrition Facts label is to continue to educate, it should allow for changes more often than once every 20 years. For example, gluten, probiotics, and omega-3 were not on the radar screen 20 years ago.”