Product information is essential in the grocery sector and this is mainly caused by three factors. The aim of this blog is to discuss these factors and the implementation by brands and supermarkets in form of various examples and challenges in the food industry.
The high currency of this aspect is shown by the fact that up to 50 percent of women are on a diet at any given time and up to 90 percent of teenagers diet regularly, according to Judy Mahle Lutter. The reasons for this trend are obvious: People use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram on a daily basis, start discussions on their own lifestyles and let themselves influenced by healthy life models. A look at the most popular influencers on Instagram is enough to identify this factor as significant or the changes in customer’s interests. Celebrities as models, actors, singers and athletes publish their healthy recipes, food images and personal results regularly and influence the lifestyle of the new generation. These changes are reinforced by the government and the introduction of a sugar tax.
This development also affects the retail industry, but a list of ingredients is often not visible and this visualisation of product information challenges the food industry. Ingredients are often not visible at a first glance and it takes a long time to compare the labels to determine which foods are lowest in calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar. This information could help us avoid foods that contain additives or other ingredients that are unhealthy. A couple of companies follow this approach and are very successful with the provided transparency. EAT and ITSU are just two examples of shops that pursue the strategy of transparency and make it possible for their customers to see the most important ingredients at a first glance.
Apart from healthy lifestyles, the consideration of allergies has a significant impact on the physical health of people. For that reason, it is absolutely essential for brands to provide information about critical ingredients and the list is long: Milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts wheat, wheat, soy, fish and much more. More than 170 foods have been reported to cause allergic reactions. In the UK, an estimated 2 million people are living with a diagnosed food allergy, and 600,000 with coeliac disease. These figures exclude those with food intolerances such as lactose intolerance.
To avoid those emergencies caused by allergic reactions, information must be available at first sight. Pret A Manger, to call an example, provides this information with a coloured symbol on the labels. They also refer to their website to learn more about ingredients of each product and this shows that they are steering the right course, but need to provide this detailed information in their shops as well. Only a few customers have the time to visit the website and search for a specific product, especially at lunchtime.
The brand’s success is more than ever affected by the consumer trust. A study by the Centre for Food Integrity (CFI) found there is a “trust deficit” that exists between consumers and food companies, federal regulators and farmers. Only 33% of survey respondents said they strongly agree that they are confident in the safety of the food they eat. The reasons are well known: The missing transparency makes people think critically about a product and brand and this is also confirmed by examples in the early history. The Food Standards Agency has launched an investigation after lab tests reportedly showed pork in Sainsbury’s “meat-free” meatballs in 2018.
Now we know more about the lack of trust, but what is the solution? As mentioned in the last paragraphs, the transparency is more important than ever.
While nutrition facts labels can be helpful, not everyone understands the information included or the importance of it. A study published in the “American Journal of Preventive Medicine” found that people who had low levels of literacy and numeracy often didn’t understand these labels and that even some people who were more literate sometimes had trouble interpreting nutrition facts labels. To offer the transparency to their customers, the food industry should notice that today’s consumers want and need to see what’s in their basket for the mentioned reasons.
Supermarkets can take advantage of technologies and data to visualise product information and simplify the shopping experience for their customers.