A brand strategist and packaging expert debate their take on the current nutritional labeling format.
First, let me make it clear that I am very much in favor of transparency in food packaging – consumers have the right and the responsibility to know what is in the food they purchase. As a consumer, I am probably more concerned than most about nutritional content. In the 70s, armed with a copy of Goldbeck’s The Supermarket Handbook, I taught myself to be conscious of and knowledgeable about the content and quality of food I was feeding my young family. So I am in full support of the changes to nutrition facts as a viable and important tool for consumers – anything that can be done to make nutritional content easy to understand and convert into a healthy lifestyle.
The current Nutrition Facts format is and should remain the principle consumer guide to disclosure of nutritional content. The government has mandated that it be presented in a clear, legible format so in all cases it is understandable. However, if there is a flaw in the current Nutrition Facts format, it is that its utility is based on the ability and willingness of the consumer to read it. To me, adding the Nutrition Keys or Facts Up Front to the face of a package represents a needless duplication of the Nutrition Facts already required on a package.
Facts Up Front is a voluntary program offered by the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Food Marketing Institute, designed to exchange “key” nutritional information on the “front of the package” – in theory, making it fast and simple to understand – without consumers having to pick up a package to read the nutrition facts.
I have been involved in consumer packaged goods for the greater part of my life and disclosure is good. But as products battle for shelf space, materials reduction and sustainability, filling important “real estate” with Facts Up Front is sacrificing important space needed for brand story messaging – the visual tool connecting to and creating interest and intrigue with consumers. I believe consumers select a product based on graphic design, color, images, structure or because of brand loyalty more so than on nutrition. If a package doesn’t have compelling visual impact, no one is going to stop just to see the nutrition icons, and if that is the case, we can go back to the days of generic packaging, where all packaging is a uniform flat color with nutrition, content and legal copy.
So Chip, as an uninformed shopper, what do you say to that?
Kris, you obsessive shopper!
Keep it Simple
I believe what my esteemed colleague is trying to say is the Facts Up Front is a redundancy of the more formal Nutrition Facts on the back of the package. I, on the other hand, like the quick scan of the numerical values on the front of the package. I like ease and simplicity and, I don’t know if this is a guy thing, I prefer not to pick up packages and turn them over to get my information. Perhaps I am just lazy but I am sure not alone. So as a visual scanner of shelves and not one who seeks engagement with each product package I encounter, Facts up Front is a systemized approach to get what I need off the face panel.
Keep it Consistent
Systemized is key for me. Since the Facts Up Front is voluntary, some food product companies are simply designing their own graphics to present this key information. I don’t believe this is a good approach because the idea should be to train consumers to look for the recognizable “can” icons. Consistent graphics in consistent placement is the best way to make the system work. I also would like to see the baseline quantity serving sizes be more universal – one cup for cereal dry goods or liquids and single units of like sizes – one cookie instead of four cookies.
Keep it Brief
I also don’t buy the argument that the space can be better used for product branding. The brand already has enough space on the package to tell its compelling story. The key is whether it’s being told correctly. You know the old saying, if you can’t describe your brand in a few short phrases, don’t change your copy, change your brand.
Where we do agree is that design is key. Structure, color, compelling images all add to the impression the consumer forms of your brand on the shelf – your package.
Whether your customers are the interactive shopper like Kris or the scanner shopper like me, the best thing to remember is when developing your packaging, work with a firm who understands both. Why not get the best of both worlds?
Do you have an opinion on the nutritional labeling formats? We’d love to hear your take on it.