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OPINIONFresh Food

Do Consumers Really Care About Nutritional Information?

It's a very confusing time for shoppers

The Lempert Report

In the U.S., all food and food labeling, except for meat, poultry and eggs, are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Meat, poultry and eggs are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and often individual state departments of agriculture.

Results of the 2019 U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends research report by the Hartman Group for the Food Marketing Institute of 1,786 U.S. primary shoppers ages 18 or older showed that baby boomers and older generations are more likely to shop for food labeled low-sugar, low-sodium, low-fat, high fiber and low-carbohydrate. No surprise. As we have said before, as boomers get closer to death, life becomes more important, and they have started reading labels a lot more.

But labels aren't black and white—and can be misleading to shoppers—so be transparent on your store brands and prepared foods. Here is the legal use of the above terms:

  • Low-sugar. There is no allowed FDA “low sugar” term, so it may not be used. A reduced or less-sugar term may be used if the food has 25% less sugar per the reference amount customarily consumed. 
  • Low-sodium is defined by the FDA as 140 milligrams or less per RACC per 50-gram portion or per 100 grams of main dish/meal.
  • Low-fat is defined by the FDA as 3 grams or less per 50-gram portion or 3 grams per 100 grams of main dish/meal, and not more than 30% of calories from fat.
  • Low-carbohydrate. There is no allowed FDA “low carbohydrate” term, so it may not be used.  

According to the research, millennials and Gen Z shoppers most often look for food packaging claims of natural, gluten-free, free-range and certified humane. 

  • Natural. The FDA has not made a rule to “establish a formal definition for the term ‘natural,’” but the FDA has considered the term “natural” to mean that nothing artificial or synthetic (including all color additives regardless of source) has been included in, or has been added to, a food that would not normally be expected to be in that food. 
  • Gluten-free. The gluten-free rule specifies that any foods that carry the label “gluten-free,” “no gluten,” “free of gluten” or “without gluten” must contain less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.  
  • Free range or free roaming. For meat or poultry to be labeled, the USDA rules state: “Producers must demonstrate to the agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.”  Note: allowed access not necessarily be outside.

Unfortunately, Facebook, blogs/vlogs, Instagram, and TV/radio still lead with nutrition misinformation. Celebrities account for 87% of nutrition misinformation, followed by friends and family (84%); people with similar personal experiences (73%); nurses, chiropractors, physical therapists/occupational therapists and pharmacists (54%); and medical doctors (36%).

Thousands more reasons to be sure you have a registered dietitian in your stores to advise your shoppers with the truth.

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