Food Law News - UK - 2008


FSA News Item, 29 September 2008

NUTRITIONAL LABELLING - Expert panel presents scientific basis for the main stage of the evaluation of front-of-pack nutritional labelling on food

A panel of independent research experts (the PMP) will today present a paper which sets out the scientific basis for the main phase of the independent evaluation of front-of-pack nutritional signposting in the UK. The Project Management Panel (PMP) comprises nutrition, and market and social research experts and was set up with the agreement of all key stakeholders in 2006 to manage the independent study into front-of-pack nutritional signposting on food.

This paper will include some insights from the initial qualitative work, which explored how people actually use front-of-pack labels. It concentrates on findings that are most relevant to the design of the next phase the quantitative study, which will provide information about the elements of the signposting schemes currently in use and identify which are most effective in helping consumers make informed food choices. This main stage will concentrate on investigating how well consumers understand the information given on the various labels.

Since 2006, UK retailers and manufacturers have been increasingly using front-of-pack nutritional labelling on a wide range of foods. There are three main schemes:

The findings reported today suggest that people are generally positive about using nutritional signposting on the front of packs of food and provide valuable insights on how people actually use the labels. They also highlight areas which cause confusion for some shoppers and need to be explored further. The areas of confusion include the use of colours in the various schemes, understanding information about portion sizes, interpreting and using numerical information.

Chair of the panel, Sue Duncan, said: 'We are aware there is widespread interest in this research and therefore felt it important to share progress to date. The initial phase of the evaluation provides some valuable insights into how people are using front-of-pack food labels and was important in shaping the main quantitative phase of the study, which has just begun.

'We are also setting out, for all to see, the evidence and analysis that underpins our scientific approach to testing people's comprehension of front-of-pack labels. This main phase involves interviews with some 3,000 shoppers and will provide key evidence for Government and other stakeholders on how each scheme and the various elements which make up those schemes, are working in practice.'

Each stage of the evaluation is being subjected to peer review, to ensure the methods and analysis are as rigorous as possible. The final report, covering all elements of the research, is expected to be available in spring 2009 and will be peer reviewed before publication. The research results will provide robust evidence to inform future UK Government policy considerations on front-of-pack labelling of food.

Notes to editors

1. Management of the research

The PMP panel has four members and collective expertise in public health, nutrition and social and market research. It is chaired by the former Chief Government Social Researcher Sue Duncan. The other panel members are Ashley Adamson, Alizon Draper and Malcolm Rigg.

The specification for the research and the research design were agreed with key stakeholders before awarding the contract. Key stakeholders were also involved in work to elaborate the research design. Further details of this work can be found at: food.gov.uk/foodlabelling/signposting/signpostevaluation/

The study is being carried out by BMRB Social Research and the Food, Consumer Behaviour and Health Research Centre, University of Surrey.

2. The Research Design and Methodology

The qualitative aspect of the research has informed the quantitative work, which is under way. The results from all the research are expected to be published following peer review in spring 2009.

a. Qualitative phase (completed)

This consisted of three parts:

100 accompanied shops. Researchers accompanied people as they shopped, using a topic guide to explore the decision-making process, with particular focus on how front-of-pack labels are used in this context. Screening at recruitment ensured that all of those included in the research purchased the types of food items that have front-of-pack labelling.

50 in-store shopping bag audits. Researchers went through the respondents' shopping bags with them, after they had shopped. They discussed purchasing decisions with shoppers, again with a focus on the use of front-of-pack labels. The in-store audits only included shoppers who had bought items with front-of-pack labels.

50 in-home shopping bag audits. Researchers visited shoppers in their home at a time convenient for them following a shopping trip. The in-home audits focused on how shoppers planned to use the food in the coming days.

Participants for all three parts were recruited to set quotas covering shopping venue, main/occasional shopper, frequency of use of labels, dietary needs, life stage (ensuring parents with young children are captured), socio-economic group, gender, ethnicity and education.

b. Quantitative phase (under way)

A representative sample of 3,000 shoppers from across the UK will be surveyed face to face in their homes using Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing. The interview will include comprehension tests and collect information on nutritional knowledge and interest, self reported label use, and key demographics. Fieldwork for this phase of work is expected to be completed by the end of 2008.

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