Consumers are Confused about “non-GMO” and “organic” Labels

The Meatingplace reported on a new study conducted by researchers at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. They found more results pointing to confusion amongst consumers when evaluating “non-GMO” and “organic” labels.

How the Study Worked

Researchers based their findings on a national survey of 1,132 respondents. These people were specifically asked about their willingness to pay more for food labeled as non-GMO or genetically modified. The two products that the researched focused on were a 12-pack of granola bars versus fresh apples. The evaluated how much more respondents would pay for either of these items labeled as “Non-GMO Project Verified” or “USDA Organic.”

Their Findings Showcase Confused Consumers

The team of researchers found that consumers will pay $0.35 more for a 12-pack of granola bars with the “Non-GMO Project Verified” label on the packaging. However, the “USDA Organic” label did not hold as much weight, as consumers would only pay $0.09 more for the granola bars.

When consumers looked at fresh apples, things changed. Consumers were willing to pay $0.35 more for a pound of fresh apples labeled as “Non-GMO Project Verified” while they were willing to pay $0.40 more for the same pound of fresh apples labeled as “USDA Organic.” It seems that the “USDA Organic” label carries more weight in fresh produce than processed foods based on this study.

Why are Consumers Confused?

Consumers have almost done this to themselves as they have demanded more product transparency from brands over the past few years. Food companies are scrambling to add claims that stick out and show their food is “real.” Label Insight showcased last year that consumers find it difficult to understand if a product meets their needs by looking at the package.

What’s interesting about this new study from the University of Florida is how consumers are confused about “organic” and “non-GMO.” According to the USDA, the use of GMOs is prohibited in “organic” foods. So in reality, all organic foods are “non-GMO.” However, not all “non-GMO” foods are organic. Which makes it even more interesting that consumers are willing to pay more for packaged products with the non-GMO project verified logo.

The bottom line is education is needed on this subject. As food manufacturers invest in more organic foods and certifications, they expect consumers to be willing to pay more. This could spell trouble for brand betting big on organic in 2018 and beyond.

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Misleading Labeling Claims Can Land Food Companies in a Lawsuit

In today’s modern society, most consumers are driven to purchase healthy foods. Customers take the time to read and compare food labels to decide which products are right for them. Food producers use labels as a marketing ploy. Food manufacturers love to claim different kinds of health benefits to boost their products’ sales. Unfortunately, many of these claims are misleading.

The Problem with Misleading Food Labels

Food and beverage brands come up with the latest buzzwords that are designed to boost product sales. Consumers expect the labels to be truthful so that they can make healthier choices. Moreover, they assume that the government is keeping a strict eye on the food manufacturers.

While there is some truth to this, what’s good to know though is the system is currently working to make companies accountable for their misleading food labeling.  On August 12, 2016, the company Nature’s Way falsely labeled its coconut oil as healthy; thus, a California federal judge found that the firm’s advertising and labeling are misleading.

The company branded their products as a healthy alternative to shortening, margarine, butter and other cooking oils despite the fact that it is not much better than those products. Moreover, the company’s advertising and product labeling violated several state food regulations in Canada.

Food Labeling Laws

Food manufacturers are expected to evaluate their foods and make their nutrition labels.  They are allowed to make a margin of error of plus or minus 10%. The Food and Drug Administration imposes that all food producers are straightforward when it comes to labeling their food products. For instance, products that are labeled as “natural” may contain surprisingly unnatural ingredients. Moreover, food manufacturers should also include the exact serving size and calories on the label as part of FDA regulations.

FDA food label nutrition facts panel update for 2017 2018 2019 food companiesFDA Issues Public Warning

With the increasing trend of using misleading labels, the FDA strictly defines the term “natural” in food products, and it restricts many food manufacturers to abuse such claim. Those who do not comply with the agency often suffer repercussions.

For instance, the agency issued a public warning letter in 2014 to Premier Organics about its product named Arisana Coconut Butter Whole Coconut Flesh is not healthy because it contains high amounts of saturated fat per serving.

Another company that has found itself in hot water with the FDA was General Mills. The company experienced a lawsuit when it allegedly claimed that the product Cheerios Protein is a protein-rich version of the regular Cheerios when, in fact, it does not contain significant amounts of added protein.

The false advertising of many companies has led to the proposal of the Food Labeling Modernization Act to streamline food labeling and create a standard labeling requirement for all food products. With this proposal, food manufacturers will be more careful in using buzzwords like “natural” and “healthy.”


Developer Creates More Visual Food Data With Interactive App

More consumers are reading food labels than ever before. Customers expect packaged foods to contain the appropriate and promised ingredients. A developer has reinvented food data by launching a new web app, Sage Project. Co-founded by Sam Slover and backed by the FDA, the Sage Project is an online platform that gives food data and labels a new visual understanding of what we are eating.


The Sage Project

The project deconstructs thousands of food products–both fresh and packaged–into a personalized, interactive platform that contains necessary information you would find in conventional food labels. The information accessed with this app includes nutrients, calories, allergens, vitamins, and ingredients. But aside from providing food data, the developer wanted to communicate the nutritional content and what it means in the context of the health of an individual. The app also contains information on how it affects the fitness goals and activity levels of a person.

The app itemizes all the ingredients regarding weight in a list. While it is straightforward enough, the developer also ensured that the ingredients and nutrients also change depending on the serving size. This gives consumers a clear idea of how much of a particular ingredient or nutrient they are getting from the food in a specific amount.

Why People Are Not Reading Food Labels

There is a big reason why most consumers do not read food labels. While it takes some time getting used to reading food labels, conventional food labels are downright boring to look at. In a study conducted by researchers from the University of Minnesota, they revealed that one of the biggest reasons why people are not looking at labels is because they do not have strong visuals.

To solve this problem, the Sage Project deconstructed the traditional food label into an infographic. A list of the five most abundant nutrients of the food product is located at the top of the page, while an analysis of the nutritional content is found beneath it.

The app also features the types of exercises needed to burn off a particular food item when eaten; while an annotated list of ingredients including allergens is found in the lower part of the screen. Since most of the consumers are not familiar with some of the ingredients used in making a product, there are information icons beside each ingredient that you can scroll through to understand that particular ingredient better.


The Drawbacks to The Sage Project Food Data

The Sage Project provides a lot of information, which is one of its drawbacks. Some people just want their food labels to be straightforward. With so much information, some people may find the entire app overwhelming. However, the visual appeal of the data makes it easy to comprehend for the more data savvy generation, millennials.


According to Angela Lemond from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, consumers might experience information overload when using this app. But nevertheless, this app can be customized to fit any customers’ dietary restrictions as well as health goals. What matters is that this app can help a lot of people make the right health decisions when it comes to their food.

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