Clarifying What We’re Buying
By Bernice Hurst, Managing Partner, Fine Food Network
As language and the meaning of words change, so too must food labels if they are to deliver the clarity of information consumers require. New guidance recently released by the U.K.’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) has addressed this issue. The agency has specifically looked at ways to agree on meanings for terms such as “fresh,” “natural” and “pure” in order to help manufacturers and retailers help shoppers.
After its Food Advisory Committee found, in 2002, that some terms were being misused so that messages were too far-removed from “their generally accepted meanings,” the FSA issued guidelines. They have not been revised since then.
Food & Drink Europe quoted Stephen Pugh, head of the Food Labeling Branch at the FSA, as saying, “Marketing terms are useful to enable industry to differentiate their products but need to be used in a way that is meaningful to consumers. In our guidance, developed with consumer organizations, industry and enforcement bodies, we have suggested the conditions when certain marketing terms can be used. These conditions reflect current consumer understanding and perceptions of these terms.”
As we discussed on RetailWire in May (Consumers
Buy Green. Do They Understand It?), research firm Buzzback found that even though consumers saw the environment
as one of the day’s most important issues, only about one-third of those interviewed
were “familiar” or “very familiar” with the term “sustainable.” Lynn Dornblaser,
director of CPG trend insight at Mintel, also indicated a mismatch between
consumers’ desire for green products and their degree of knowledge.
The FSA’s new guidelines aim to eliminate such problems on food products by ensuring that consumers understand the marketing terms manufacturers and retailers use, recommending against using words for their emotive appeal, for example.
Particular points that should be considered include labeling and advertising food without deceit so that shoppers can make informed choices; offering sufficient information to justify any claims made; allowing for fair comparison and competition between products, sectors and companies and, finally, thinking in terms of what an “average” consumer is likely to find understandable and unambiguous.
Discussion question: Do you think greater clarification around many health & wellness terms are necessary or do such recommendations verge on the pedantic? How much value does it provide to consumers? How will clearer terms ultimately impact sales?