Food businesses should consider nutritional labeling on food products

Consumers expect to see nutritional labeling even though it is not required on all products.

Nutritional labeling is required on many foods and requires careful study for anyone manufacturing a food product. Nutrition Facts is a specific label format that uses a standard serving measurement and lists the amount of calories and specific nutrients provided by the food. The Nutrition Facts label was mandated under the 1990 Nutritional Education and Labeling Act.

Any packaged food product except meat manufactured by a company with $500,000 or less in annual sales is exempt from providing a Nutrition Facts label unless the product makes some type of a health or nutrition claim. A claim could be something such as the food is low in fat or high in fiber. Small scale companies that do not make any claims are not required to provide a Nutrition Facts Label.

While Nutrition Facts is optional for some foods, many consumers expect to see the label and therefore may be important for manufacturers of food products to take the extra step to provide this information. A study conducted by the NPD Group, a leading market research company, asked consumers their level of agreement with the statement, “I frequently check labels to determine whether the foods I buy contain something I’m trying to avoid.” Fifty two percent of survey respondents agreed with this statement. While this seems significant, this sentiment has dropped from a high of 65 percent of respondents agreeing with this statement back in 1990. It appears that while many consumers use the Nutrition Facts Label the percentage of people who do has steadily declined over the last 20 years.

Research conducted by the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota suggests that consumers have a finite attention span for Nutrition Facts labels. Their research study showed although most consumers did view labels, very few consumers viewed every component of the labels. This research was published in the Nov. 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

Food processors who are exempt from the law need to ask the question if including a Nutrition Facts label is worth the investment. While not required by law, some grocery stores have a policy of requiring it on food products and if businesses wish to market their products to those stores it may be a good investment. Having a Nutrition Facts label created is generally not an expensive item in a food product development budget and is an option that should be considered.

The Michigan State University (MSU) Product Center Food-Ag-Bio provides business counseling and helps entrepreneurs in launching new food products. One specialized service provided is the development of Nutrition Facts labels. Food businesses may contact the Product Center for assistance with labeling.