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3 Reasons Why Consumers are Confused by Food Labels (and What Brands Can Do)

Posted by Kira Karapetian on May 23, 2017

Welcome to the last post in our Shopper Trends series. We’ve been busy digging into key findings from our 2017 Label Insight Shopper Trends Survey. If you’re just joining us, be sure to read our earlier articles about the diets driving American food-buying decisions, and our growing love affair with superfoods. We’re wrapping up the series with a closer look at consumers’ ongoing frustration with food labels -- and how brands can help.

photo of woman looking at product

Food Labels Fall Short

Label Insight research has continuously highlighted a gap between the level of information consumers want on labels, and what is currently available. Our latest survey reinforces this divide. Of the 75% of shoppers who read food labels, two-thirds report it is challenging to decipher if the product actually meets their dietary needs. shopper trends 3.png

This is a big problem for food and beverage brands, especially when you consider that half of these consumers are shopping with specific diets and health requirements in mind. If a label falls short of providing the information they need, shoppers will likely move on to another product.

So why is it challenging for consumers to shop within your nutritional wants or needs? Three answers rose to the top.


  1. Shoppers don’t know where to find the information they want or need

  2. Many terms -- like natural or healthy -- are too vague

  3. Ingredient lists are hard to read


We’ll tackle how brands can address each of these issues in just a minute. First, it’s important to understand how shoppers are bridging this information gap on their own.

Consumers are Googling for Answers

What our research shows is that after reading a product label, half of shoppers (48%) feel that they are “not informed at all” about the product. As a result, most of these shoppers (76%) turn to the Internet to seek out answers. They don’t ask friends, family, a doctor or nutritionist -- they immediately go online.

That’s a lot of shoppers Googling their way out of a confused state.

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The question brands need to ask themselves is: What information will consumers find when they search for my products online?

Brands that have embraced some form of digital labels are already a step ahead. Perhaps you’ve created product-specific landing pages that include information beyond what’s on your labels. Like a list of the allergens -- or lack of -- in your products, or additional marketing claims to help guide nutritional choices. If so, we applaud these efforts.

Clearing Up Confusion with SmartLabel

If you haven’t jumped on the digital labelling trend yet, we get it. It’s data intensive, resource heavy work. But not doing so means turning away customers and possibly diminishing your brand equity. Luckily, there’s a scalable solution called SmartLabel™ that enables you to digitally update product information as needed -- whether it’s in response to customer interests, changing regulations, or product reformulations.

Approximately 7,000 products are participating in the SmartLabel initiative to date, and it’s on track to scale up to 34,000 products (75-80% of the products available in most stores) by the end of this year.

The Label Insight team is at the forefront of helping brands implement SmartLabel (we power the lion’s share of all SmartLabel pages available today). We help gather your raw product data from a package flat, transform it into smart attributes, then populate SmartLabel landing pages with this information. And, we work with you to provide all of the relevant off package information that consumers are searching for today, such as sourcing practices and social compliance and sustainability programs.

I said earlier that we’d tackle how to address the top challenging consumers cite for being unable to shop within their nutritional wants or needs.

SmartLabel offers an all-in-one solution.

With SmartLabel’s online landing pages, brands can address consumers’ top three pain points. You create a place where they can find all the information they need. You can define any terms that may be confusing or vague - such as explaining what “USDA Organic” means. You can even break down ingredient lists, giving ingredient definitions about lesser-known ingredients like citric acid and xantham gum.

We love talking about product transparency, so let’s connect if you want to learn more about SmartLabel.

Want to see more grocery and CPG industry insights in your inbox? Download the complete 2017 Shopper Trends Survey, or subscribe to the Label Insight blog for weekly updates.

A note about our methodology. In March 2017, Label Insight surveyed 1,003 consumers who have a shared or primary responsibility for household shopping purchases. Consumers were asked about their dietary preferences, their ability to find information they need to make informed purchasing decisions, and their confidence in finding the information they seek.

Topics: Trends & Research

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