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Thursday, April 1, 2010
Truth of the matter?

A recent study by the Bureau of Market Research (BMR) at the University of South Africa (Unisa) investigated attitudes of shoppers of packaged produce to food labelling and healthful living. Local and global healthful living debates have revealed many uncertainties concerning the role of food labelling in choice and purchasing behaviour. The BMR report reflects findings on food labelling usage, the functionality and importance of labelling, and consumers’ attitudes to and comprehension of food labelling.

Food labelling is regarded as a means of assisting the consumer to distinguish healthier food options on the shelf. However, according to Dr Elizabeth Kempen, it remains debatable whether the consumer is able to use the nutrition information provided in food labelling to its fullest potential. Prof Pierre Joubert furthermore elucidates that a diverse South African population complicates general consumer education programmes geared to enlighten buyers about nutrition information, food label use and general healthful living.
The study found that value for money, price, expiry date and quality were viewed as the most important packaging-related considerations that could influence shoppers’ decisions to buy a food product. These were followed by considerations such as nutrition information reflected in food labels together with environmentally friendly and locally produced.

  Shoppers were in agreement that they are interested in and concerned about their current health status. They also expressed confidence about their ability to comprehend nutrition information in product labels and indicated that they currently read more health-related articles than they did three years ago. In addition, respondents prioritised health-related behaviours such as maintaining a well balanced diet, eating enough fresh fruit and vegetables, getting enough sleep and watching sugar and fat intake. Regular exercise, cutting back on snacks and treats, avoiding foods with additives (tartrazine) and preservatives (MSG) and watching the salt content are the most neglected practices. In this regard, 36–45-year-old shoppers displayed the least healthy lifestyle with lower participation rates in regular exercise, avoiding foods with preservatives, reducing stress and anxiety, maintaining a balance between work and play, getting enough sleep and eating a well balanced diet.
Younger shoppers (16–25-year-olds) also displayed a relatively unhealthy lifestyle, engaging less in cutting back on snacks, paying attention to the amount of alcohol consumed and trying to avoid smoking. Turning to shoppers according to income group, middle-income shoppers (R20 001–R35 000) displayed a healthier lifestyle, claiming to avoid foods with additives, watching the amount of fat consumed, paying attention to sugar intake and eating a well balanced diet. High-income shoppers indicated that they pay more attention to the amount of alcohol consumed and try to avoid smoking but pay less attention to the amount of red meat, fat or sugar consumed. Proportionally, female shoppers indicated that they pay attention to the amount of red meat consumed more so than males do.
The study also found that 28.4 % of shoppers never read on-pack nutrition information, 31.9% often read nutrition information while the remainder (40.7 %) seldom reads such information. The report indicates that reading of nutrition information is more prevalent amongst shoppers from the higher disposable household income groups.
A high percentage (between 85% and 89%) of those who read nutrition information claim to read the total fat content, vitamins and ingredients listed in food labels. Slightly fewer respondents (between 70 % and 80 %) indicated that they read the information on colourants such as tartrazine, saturated fat, sugars, carbohydrates, fibre, protein, additives such as MSG, poly-unsaturated fat and energy. Even fewer respondents (between 60 % and 70 %) read information about mono-unsaturated fat, sodium, trans-fatty acids and minerals.
Substantial differentiation between nutrition knowledge levels was evident amongst shoppers. For example, almost all respondents knew that calcium builds strong bones and vitamin C fights colds but fewer than 50% knew that potassium balances sodium in the body.
In general, the BMR report suggests that shoppers need greater assistance and guidance in the use, interpretation and application of nutrition information contained in food labels.
Further information: Food Labelling And Healthful Living In Gauteng, 2009 (Research Report no 389) was compiled by Prof JPR Joubert of the Bureau of Market Research (Research Director, BMR) and Dr E Kempen (Senior lecturer, Department Life and Consumer Sciences at Unisa). The report, consisting of 114 pages, is available from the Bureau of Market Research, PO Box 392, UNISA 0003.

Copyright © Insurance Times and Investments® Vol:23.4 1st April, 2010
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