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Consumers shun nutrition info for recycling instructions

By Jess Halliday , 20-Feb-2008

Consumers are more interested in seeing recycling information on food labels than fat, sugar and calorie information, according to a new survey from Mintel, adding further fuel to the debate on what info should be presented and how.

The consultancy conducted an online survey amongst 1,000 consumers aged 16 years and over. Eighty-four percent of respondents said they now look at recycling details. For 84 per cent this is just as important as fat content. For 80 per cent it is more important than salt info, for 79 per cent more important than sugar info, and for 70 per cent more important than calorie content.

The findings are pertinent at the present time as labelling the nutrient content of food is a hot topic across Europe, since the European Commission published its proposal for new labelling legislation at the end of last month. The purpose of the planned labelling legislation is to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions, as well as simplify the system across the whole bloc.

However this has already caused consternation from the food industry, since the number of nutrients the commission proposed to be listed front-of-pack (six - fat, saturated fat, carbohydrates, sugar, salt and energy) and the minimum size for text for mandatory information (3mm) would pose design issues. In particular, the CIAA has said this could compromise the brand, and thus stand in the way of consumer recognition.

If recycling details are also be included, this makes the available space even more crowded. David Bird, senior consumer analyst at Mintel said: "One of the problems is that consumers are currently bombarded with a host of different recycling labels on food packaging."

He said that recycling instructions "need to be as simple as possible". Not only would this help reduce label clutter, but it would also encourage consumers to recycle packaging. Bird also had some advice for how food manufacturers could ensure all the information is available for consumers.

"To give consumers everything they want, manufacturers need to look at some creative alternatives to standard food labels," he said. Some suggestions he put forward were providing further details on websites, or in-store scanners that could allow consumers to bring up further nutritional or ethical information about a product on a screen.

The Mintel survey also gave some insight into consumers' ability to read the information on labels, which has relevance to the 3mm minimum font debate. Fifty-five of all respondents said they find the print on labels too small - and amongst older people this figure increased significantly to 84 per cent.

As for the current amount of information on food labels, overall 48 per cent said that labels are too "cluttered", rising to 62 per cent for older people.

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