Consumer response to nutrition information available in catering outlets
Wednesday 4 March 2009
Prepared by Navigator Research for the Central Office of Information on behalf of Food Standards Agency.
To help inform discussions with key stakeholders, the FSA commissioned qualitative research to establish consumers’ views on nutrition labelling in catering settings by exploring with consumers:
- awareness of and response to schemes that already exist
- understanding and ease of use
- what form they feel a scheme should take from their perspective
- the information it should contain and how that information should be conveyed.
Research was conducted with respondents recruited to represent a 'broad middle ground' in terms of attitudes to diet/health, with all eating out in a range of different types of outlet including 'casual dining', 'quick serve' restaurants, coffee shops and 'pub dining' two to three times a month or more.
The main sample (C150 people) was recruited to 24 group discussions arranged by age, life-stage, and SEG, and in addition 40 individual interviews were conducted, 32 in 'quali halls' and 8 pre-recruited with Black Minority Ethnic (BME) respondents. There was a consistency of views across Socio-Economic Groups (SEG) and Black and Minority Groups (BME) respondents.
Fieldwork was conducted throughout the UK.
There was some awareness of existing nutrition information and, it was clear that this information was being used by some as a factor in making choices, with examples of behaviour given including the following:
- taking longer to think about choice of 'supplementary' items
- substituting one item for another
- reducing frequency of consumption of particular items
- 'balancing' with other aspects of their diet across the day or week.
There was no sense of surprise that such information should be made available in the light of awareness of diet related health issues affecting the nation and existing provision of nutrition information in the retail environment. Overall consumers felt there was no reason for the information not to be made available as the decision to make use of it would be a matter of personal choice, although there were isolated instances of respondents who felt they would rather not be exposed to it.
While the issue of where, how, and what information should be conveyed is hugely complex some general principles emerged.
There was a plea for standardisation, that is, for one scheme which all could use as it was felt that this would facilitate ease of use, create trust and confer credibility on information presented in different outlets. Simplicity was important and was a ‘trade off’ identified between the amount of information offered and likely engagement. Information overload was often felt to be no better than 'no information'.
There was a consistency in the rationale that consumers developed in terms of how they would like to see a system operate. It was felt that simple information should be provided at the point where decisions are made, for example, on the menu in the case of a 'sit down' restaurant, or on the ‘menu board’ in the case of a 'counter order' environment, with a focus on brevity, immediacy and ease of use. A more comprehensive information package could also be made available for those who required it. This should be freely available, for example as a separate leaflet, or automatically distributed via point of consumption materials, so that future choice could be considered and contemplated, rather than available on request or on a website.
The New York calorie scheme was felt to work well even if it contained some compromises.
The 'city wide' implementation was applauded, and the scheme’s main strength was seen to be simplicity, which meant that it was felt that it would work well at the point of decision, facilitating easy comparison between items and highlighting the implications of ‘incidental’ extras. Even some who were unused to counting calories thought it would be easy to use.
Although calories were a common 'nutrient of choice' for monitoring, the scheme’s focus on calories alone was questioned by some who argued that they were not the whole story in terms of health. However, this shortcoming was often accepted for the sake of simplicity at point of decision. Information on recommended calorie consumption was contained in some examples. Where this was not included the system still worked comparatively between items. It was felt that ideally recommended calorie consumption information would also be prominently displayed.