“Many do not look at labels on these products because nutritional content seems to matter less to consumers on categories which are considered a treat,” claims Geraldine Padbury, senior consultant in consumer research at Harris Interactive.
The consultant presented the findings from two surveys her firm undertook in relation to consumers’ usage and understanding of food labelling at last week's annual conference of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery (BCCC) trade section of the UK industry body, the Food and Drink Federation.
The first survey interviewed 1,079 online and investigated consumer’s general attitude to food labelling. The second one, involving 1,342 was conducted especially for the BCCC conference - Working Together for a Healthy Future - and looked specifically at various food categories.
The poll devised for the conference found that 54 per cent of participants checked labelling of cakes and 52 per cent checked pizza labels, as opposed to the 69 per cent of consumers who checked the labels of dairy products and 67 per cent of those that checked the labels of canned foods.
Females more likely to check labels
Gender differences were also found in terms of label checking behaviour. Females are consistently more likely to check or read labelling compared to males, but only marginally so, according to the analysis.
This gender difference was most significant for breakfast cereals, with 70 per cent of females reporting label reading in this category compared to 63 per cent of males.
Females are also significantly more likely to check labelling on confectionery and sweets (11 per cent compared to 7 per cent for males) and savoury snacks (16 per cent compared to 11 per cent for males).
Age was another factor in label checking behaviour. According to Harris Interactive, participants aged between 16 and 24 and 25 to 34 are significantly more likely to scan labels on cakes and confectionery or sweets.
Those aged between 25 and 34 are significantly more likely to read labels on chocolate, while consumers aged between 16 and 24 are significantly more likely to look at labels on biscuits.
Progress made by industry
On a wider scale, Padbury said there was general consensus that good progress had been made in regards to product labelling and reformulation, with a reduction in salt and fat in products.
85 per cent of those polled welcomed industry efforts. However, 75 per cent of respondents in the general survey said that food manufacturers should do more to reduce salt, saturated fat and calories wherever possible.