When you're scanning the aisles in the grocery store, if an item catches your eye, there's a good chance you'll simply grab the item, and toss it in your cart. While some people may take the time to pick up the food item and turn it around to check out the nutritional information, it's not something everyone does as often as they should. But what would happen if the nutritional breakdown of that bag of potato chips was on the front of the package instead of the back?
Could this shift to front of package (FOP) labeling actually cause you to stop and read the nutrition information, which then would influence major food companies to offer healthier choices?
That's exactly what one new study from North Carolina State University is saying will happen.
The study analyzed 16 years of data on tens of thousands of products, such as energy bars and soups, to closely examine the impact of FOP labels on individual food products and their larger food categories. (And to help you stay on track with your healthy eating goals, here are 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time!)
So how exactly did this study work?
Researchers looked at foods that included Facts Up Front style of FOP nutrition labeling. You might not know this, but it's actually a voluntary program tons of companies in the food industry take part in! So those manufacturers who participated in the program listed the calories, saturated fat, sugar, and sodium per serving size of their food products on the front of the food packages instead of the standard back of the items.
The researchers evaluated at least one food product per specific food categories before and after the FOP labels were adopted and noted that there were some changes when they calculated a product's nutritional content using the Nutrient Profiling system. They found that premium brands and brands with narrower product lines actually did improve the nutritional quality of the food more than non-premium brands in the same category. Products in categories that are often unhealthy, such as snack foods, had a big response.
Overall, there was a 13% reduction in calories, saturated fat, and sugar, and a 4% reduction in sodium in the food categories that adopted the FOP labels.
These key findings suggest that highly visible nutritional labeling might just cause a big shift toward healthier eating. The major food companies are going to want their food products to be "the healthiest," as consumers are going to be seeing this information at first glance. So if overall healthier options are offered to begin with, this is will naturally lead to people generally eating better.
"We wanted to know whether food companies were responding to increased public interest in healthier food," said Rishika Rishika, co-author of the study and an associate professor of marketing in North Carolina State University's Poole College of Management. "For consumers, we found that the presence of a Facts Up Front FOP label on a package generally meant that the product had a better nutritional profile than competing products that didn't have an FOP label."
This is a voluntary program, so not every food company out there is enrolled, but it will be interesting to see if this becomes the new norm. And knowing you're eating a better-for-you granola bar or box of cookies is a win-win for everyone, right?
If you're looking for more helpful tips and tricks, your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!