What are the effects of food labels on consumers in the EU?

How market research helped the EU assess the impact of its Guidelines on labeling schemes and the attitude of consumers towards labels

By Nielsen, a leading worldwide market research company.


Understand the quantity, accuracy and effects of food labels in the EU

The European Commission guidelines concerning the labeling of food packages and agricultural food product and the directive of unfair commercial practices, establish a number of objectives and specific measures to ensure that food labels provide consumers with transparent and reliable information. EU legislators needed to know to what extent food manufacturers follow and apply the guidelines and directives, but also how consumers actually perceive food labeling schemes, and to what extent these labels affect their purchase decisions.


Quantitative and qualitative techniques

The researchers started out with a websweep, and put together a database listing all the food labeling schemes in the EU member states, assessing whether these schemes were following the Commissions’ guidelines. An online consumer survey was conducted among EU countries to assess consumer awareness and perceptions of food labelling schemes, the survey also included a behavioural experiment. Furthermore, a virtual online shopping exercise involved shoppers visiting online grocery shops to check the food labelling schemes that were included on certain products. In the end, a web listening exercise consisted of gathering comments and conversations from consumers taking place online.

So what?

Key drivers for compliance and non-compliance and how to improve food labeling

The study found large variations in the way schemes are managed, and identified what factors and preoccupations motivate compliance or, on the contrary, discourage it:

Key drivers for compliance: increasing transparency and minimising consumer confusions;

Key obstacles for compliance: lack of awareness, administrative burden, cost of compliance.

The study suggested ways to improve food labeling schemes by raising awareness of the guidelines, improving transparency, enabling and promoting the participation of small scale producers, differentiating if the scheme is public or private and whether it is certified or self-declared, and provided methods to minimise the administrative burdens and costs for producers and scheme operators in complying with the guidelines. The study also revealed a number of regional differences between EU15 and EU12 countries; EU12 countries, the last to join the EU, are less skeptical toward food labelling schemes than EU15 respondents.