Healthy living

Location of nutrition labels matters

food labels Shoppers have a 'finite attention span'

Consumers are more likely to pay attention to nutrition labels if they are placed in the centre of food packaging rather than at the edges, a study has found.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota used an eye-tracking device to investigate how much attention potential shoppers gave to nutrition labels.

For the study, 203 people viewed 64 different grocery products on a computer screen.

The food packaging contained three distinct elements; the nutrition facts label, a picture and list of ingredients, and a description of the product with price and quantity information.

One third of the participants each saw the nutrition facts label located on the left, right or centre of the food packaging and were asked whether they would consider buying the product.

Although the participants were aware that their eye movements would be tracked, they were unaware that the study focus was on the nutrition labelling.

When the nutrition facts label was presented in the centre, the participants read one or more sections of 61 per cent of the labels compared with 37 per cent and 34 per cent of labels among participants randomly assigned to view labels on the left and right hand sides of the screen.

In addition, labels positioned in the centre of the product received 30 per cent more viewing time than labels located on the side of the product.

The researchers also found that most consumers looked at contents at the top of the label more than those at the bottom.

Although a third of the study participants said they always read the calorie content on the nutrition labels, the study found that only nine per cent actually did so.

"The results of this study suggest that consumers have a finite attention span for Nutrition Facts labels; although most consumers did view labels, very few consumers viewed every component on any label," said researchers Dan Graham and Robert Jeffrey.

"Taken together, these results indicate that self-reported Nutrition Facts label use does not accurately represent in vivo use of labels and their components while engaging in a simulated shopping exercise.

"Consumers are more likely to view centrally located labels and nutrients nearer the label's top.

"Because knowing the amounts of key nutrients that foods contain can influence consumers to make healthier purchases, prominently positioning key nutrients, and labels themselves, could substantially impact public health."

This article was published on Mon 24 October 2011

Image © Stephen VanHorn -

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