Consumers are becoming amateur health experts

* 3 min read
There will always be a battle between what marketers want to say and what the law allows, and nowhere is this more of a challenge than in the health and wellness market.

According to our resident legal expert and head of regulatory Phil Dalton, now more than ever, there’s a major disconnect between what the law allows on product labels, and what the average person hears about healthy eating; and this may be creating an issue for public policy.

"The trouble with way the way that labelling regulations deal with health is that they’re created by scientists and aren’t tied in to public health initiatives, so, while public health is focused on messages that our health depends upon such as reducing our intake of calories, fat, sugar and salt, on-pack positive health messaging is all around vitamins and minerals and what’s been added."

Phil Dalton, Head of Regulatory

"Products are presented as ‘healthy’ because of the micro nutrients they contain with no link at all to fat, sugar or salt. In fact, you can’t legally say a product is the healthy choice simply because of low fat, low sugar, low salt. This means that consumers looking for healthy options to reduce their calories, fat, sugar or salt may be being misled by on pack ‘healthy’ labelling into choosing products that claim to be healthy, and are within the law allowing a product to carry a health claim, but which actually contain a horrendous amount of fat, sugar or salt.

We need to be able to be clearer on what is the healthy choice in terms of public health and communicate it on pack in a way that the consumer understands.

Nutrition labelling is now compulsory on most foods, but the evidence is that consumers struggle to use the legally required nutritional information to make healthier choices, mainly because it’s presented in such a scientific way that it isn’t compatible with the way they eat and shop. Clear health messaging on pack, visible at the point of purchase, where consumers make their choices, needs to be more aligned to what consumers understand and the way public health is communicated. Currently though there isn’t the willingness to change the law – certainly not while we’re still working with EU regulations.

In the short term therefore, more effort is required to relate better food choices to the nutrition information that is provided. Something similar to the 5-a-day campaign, to help consumers understand and use what they see on pack, such as traffic light labelling, should be considered a priority. Longer term, we should be thinking about making health messaging on product labels to include reference to calories, fat, sugar and salt to ensure the public health messages about cutting our intakes are passed on to the consumer at the point of purchase and that they are not misled by products presented as healthy, but which contain high levels of these nutrients."

Increasingly, consumers are choosing where to make sacrifices and where to indulge, as they focus on what matters to them. Take butter for example.

Kantar figures reveal that butter sales are up 19 per cent year on year, and continue to grow with almost every market sector, apart from young families who still buy in to spreads to save money.

In fact, there was talk of a butter shortage back in July 2017, such is the growing popularity of a once maligned high fat indulgence. It’s a prime example of consumers weighing up all their options and choosing products that fit with many others to create a holistic picture of health. With many stories in the news about the synthetic ingredients in low fat spreads, many are choosing butter as a more natural alternative and eating it in reduced quantities.