According to The NPD Group's National Eating Trends service, as of 2010, 51.8% of U.S. consumers completely or mostly agreed with the statement: "I frequently check labels to determine whether the foods I buy contain anything I'm trying to avoid."
The trends service, which has been monitoring U.S. consumers' eating and drinking habits on a daily basis for 30 years, has data going back to 1985 on this survey statement.
The trends in consumers' level of agreement with the statement reflect use of the Nutrition Facts panel, which was included in the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act passed in 1990. Food manufacturers were not required to begin showing the Facts on labels until 1994.
Interest in checking labels peaked at 64.9% agreement with the statement in 1990, the year of the Act's passage. Interest levels dipped slightly between 1991 and 1994 (varying between 60.3% and 62.6%), and rose to 63.5% in 1995, when the Facts panel had been added to all required packaging. (Meat and poultry were excluded, but will also have to carry the Facts label as of Jan. 1, 2012.)
Between 1996 and 2002, attention to the label declined steadily (excluding an upward blip in 2000), from 61.2% to 50.7%.
Since 2003, attention levels have vacillated between a high of 54.3% and a low of 50.3%.
What do consumers usually look for when they do read the Nutrition Facts label? Calories, total fat, sugar, sodium and calories from fat are the top five items, according to tracking on this front by NPD's Dieting Monitor, which examines top-of-mind dieting and nutrition issues.
While some might perceive half of Americans reading the existing nutrition label as fairly encouraging, NPD chief industry analyst Harry Balzer stresses that some updating could only help drive higher attention levels.
"If there is one clear message that consumers are trying to send, it's that the label has grown tired and uninteresting," says Balzer."All good marketers want to keep their packaging contemporary, and that should include the nutrition facts information."