European consumers back 'per portion' nutrition information

A European Food Information Council survey showed that 79 percent of consumers were able to read and relay nutrient information from nutrition labels accurately. However, the format of the information resulted in big differences in terms of the ease with which they did so.

European shoppers find nutrition information easier to interpret if it is presented to them on a 'per portion' basis, according to new research – endorsing plans by the European Union to bring in mandatory on-pack labeling in this format.

In an online survey, the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) asked 13,000 men and women in six European Union countries – France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Sweden and the UK – to interpret on-pack nutritional information presented in both per portion and per 100g/100ml formats.

The results showed that 79 percent of consumers were able to read and relay nutrient information from labels accurately. However, the format of the information resulted in big differences in terms of the ease with which they did so.

When per portion details were presented alongside per 100g/100ml information, it took respondents on average 21 seconds to interpret the figures accurately. But when information was presented in a 100g/100ml format alone, calculating nutrient information became more difficult, with respondents taking on average 47 seconds to understand it – more than twice as long.

The results of EUFIC's research were published as the EU's Council of Ministers adopted a Common Position on the new Food Information to Consumers Regulation, which is set to include a provision requiring that nutrition information be placed on food and beverage labels in both per portion and per 100g/100ml formats.

The publication of the Common Position means the European Union is one step closer to agreeing a raft of new labeling rules for food and drink products. However, sticking points remain, such as the decision by the Council to allow 'national schemes' for presenting nutrition information in addition to those that are mandatory.

CIAA, the European trade body for food and drink manufacturers, said this would "de facto allow for the proliferation of national additional forms of expression and presentation [and] create barriers to trade, fragmenting the Single Market."

The industry is also opposed to the Council's reinstatement of a proposal to introduce a minimum font size for mandatory information on packs, which would be 1.2mm in size for packs whose largest surface area is greater than 60cm2, or 0.9mm for those that are smaller.

CIAA said: "CIAA regrets that the Council has taken a simplified approach to legibility, focusing on minimum font size, whereas other criteria – such as font type, contrast between the font and background, line and character pitch – are equally crucial to ensuring consumers are able to understand the information.

"Should the institutions call for a minimum font size, we would urge that this should be no more than 1mm, otherwise it could negatively impact on spacing – among other things – thus, in turn, compromising legibility."

The Common Position will now go back to the European Parliament for a second reading. The Food Information to Consumers Regulation is not expected to be finalized until the end of 2011.

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