Tuesday, 31 October 2017

How to get consumers to eat healthier?

As obesity is becoming a bigger health issue in Europe with every year, policymakers are paying more attention to consumers' shopping and eating habits. The ideal of an informed consumer making best possible (which should also mean the healthiest possible) choices is still alive. The discrepancy between this ideal and the reality could result from consumers' not being properly informed, e.g. from the nutritional information not reaching them or being too difficult for them to understand. To solve the first issue (hidden information), nutritional labels could be placed front-of-pack on food products. This is not a novel idea, as previously commissioned by European legislators' studies have already suggested an increased effectiveness of nutritional labelling if the position of the label is at the front of the packaging. The European legislator was not, however, ready to oblige traders to adjust their labelling policies to this extent. The second issue (too difficult labels) could be tackled by simplifying labelling - adopting colour-coding (traffic lights scheme) or other visual shortcuts to better inform consumers. 

The French government has just backed such a nutritional labelling system (Nutri-Score - read more here). The decree doesn't prescribe but rather leaves an option to the traders to adopt the recommended labelling system, which requires nutritional label to be placed on the front of the package and uses colours (green to orange) and letter symbols (A-E - like with washing machines) to inform consumers on 'better' food choices. This is not the first time such an experiment was undertaken by national policymakers, see e.g. the Dutch experience with Vinkje logo (see for an example of this logo on the picture on the left) (to read further on the Vinkje logo see here in Dutch). The Dutch abandoned this labelling system as it was seen to mislead consumers - the 'better' food choices could have been perceived for 'good' choices. It will be interesting to observe the impact that the French labelling change will have on marketing practices and consumer behaviour, as the French policymakers hope to encourage the European ones to further act on this issue.

The other option to help consumers take healthy food decisions is for the policymakers to regulate the food market. This week it was also reported that the Scottish government is considering restrictions on promotion of unhealthy food and drink (see here). For example, such promotions would be prohibited on routes leading to schools or around visitor attractions, where they could easily attract children attention or on TV before 9pm.

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