Label Doesn’t Impact Beverage Choices

Ernie NeffOrange Juice, Research

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This year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration updated the nutrition facts label to highlight certain information, including added sugars, to help consumers make healthier food choices. A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) study found that the label did not impact consumer beverage choices.

“We were interested in how effective the newly updated nutrition label was in terms of altering consumers’ choices — specifically, choices related to sugary beverages,” said Hayk Khachatryan, UF/IFAS food and resource economics associate professor.

“Juice catches some heat because of the sugar content, but now that added sugars are teased out on the label, consumers can differentiate between the natural sugars in juice and added sugars in soda,” said Brandon McFadden, University of Delaware assistant professor and lead researcher of the study. “I was curious if that actually mattered to consumers.”

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The research used eye-tracking software in Khachatryan’s lab at the UF/IFAS Mid-Florida Research and Education Center. Consumers were asked to choose between branded beverages including soda, diet soda, 100 percent orange juice, 48 percent orange juice and water, with either the updated nutrition label or the previous label. Prior to making their selections, participants were asked to view information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that explained the health effects and presence of sugar in food and beverages.

“Our research found that the new label attracts more attention to the sugar and calorie content, but it did not change their choices,” Khachatryan said. “We need further investigation to understand why that is, however.”

Participants spent a greater amount of time viewing the label to view sugar content, but frequently chose the beverage with added sugars over those without.

“It could be that people are looking at the label because it was new, but that it did not impact preferences because people already know that what they like is healthy or unhealthy, so the information confirmed a prior belief instead of providing new information,” McFadden said. “Also, on average, taste is more important than nutrition for consumers. Nutrition information is great, and it’s important that it is available for when we want to make a change. But the results show it seems unlikely that the actual information itself will prompt a change.”

See a full report on the study here.

Source: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences

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