Food Labels Assist Consumer Decision Making

With all the different types of food packaging available to consumers, there is really no “one-size-fits-all” approach to choosing a consumer product. Every product is labelled with information designed to assist the consumer to make informed decisions about what they buy. While there is a standard structure to the label itself, and requirements on what must be disclosed about the product, the actual information on the label will obviously change to reflect the composition of the contents. For example, some products contain very little in the way of saturated fats, while others are high in this element. The only way to know for certain is to take the time to read and understand the labels.

Almost all food packaging contains a nutrition information panel which lists how much energy (kilojoules), protein, total fat, saturated fat, carbohydrate, sodium (salt) and sugar that is in the product. Major allergens must be declared on the label, and it will also inform the total amount of any element that is contained in the product e.g. the amount of meat that there is in a meat pie.

When ingredients are listed, at first glance it just looks like a random selection of items, but the ingredients are actually listed in order of weight from the greatest to the smallest portions that are in the food. The actual serving sizes shown on the panel are chosen by the manufacturer, usually as part of a sales strategy which is activated according to the information provided by his marketing team. A good example of this is the trend in the supermarkets now to offer a product at a price for one item, but a discounted price to purchase multiple items.

Surveys of shoppers have consistently shown that they are looking for information on food labels so they can make the right choices for their families, including choosing plastic bags in Brisbane to take their food home. However, the feedback also shows that there is a lot of confusion around the information given, and after all the effort the manufacturers have put into their products and the labelling, this is a little disconcerting. Again, FSANZ has come to the rescue with a booklet entitled “Choosing the Right Stuff - the official shoppers’ guide to food additives and labels, kilojoules and fat content”.

Food labels are a boon for shoppers if they know how to read and apply the information. The FSANZ booklet is a great place to start for savvy consumers to up skill themselves so they can shop with confidence and be just a little smug about their newly acquired knowledge.