When U.S. food shoppers read labels, fat content is their greatest concern

American consumers rate themselves as the world's most savvy shoppers when it comes to understanding nutrition labels on the foods they buy. But rather than worry about preservatives or additives, most U.S. shoppers focus on fat content and calories, according to a new survey of global consumers by ACNielsen, the world's leading provider of consumer and marketplace information.

The ACNielsen online study, which polled consumers in 38 markets, found that while Americans ranked themselves first in their understanding of nutritional information, they don't often check all the ingredients, as the chart below indicates.

How Often Do Consumers Check for Certain Ingredients?
Question: Generally, how often do you check food labeling for the content or amount of: U.S. Respondents Global Respondents U.S. Rank (percentage that checks "regularly") Out of 38 Markets Surveyed
Fat 56% 49% Tie for 10th
Calories 50% 43% Tie for 9th
Sugar 48% 42% Tie 6th
Salt/Sodium 42% 26% 2nd
Trans fat 40% 24% 3rd
Carbohydrates 40% 28% 4th
Protein 30% 28% Tie for 14th
Fiber 28% 27% Tie for 15th
Additives 25% 36% Tie for 32nd
Preservatives 24% 40% 35th
Coloring 16% 36% 38th
Gluten 7% 11% Tie for 29th
Glycemic Index 7% 11% Tie for 28th
Source: ACNielsen Online Consumer Confidence StudyAlice Fawver, senior vice president, Retail Measurement Services, ACNielsen U.S. Marketing, said, "Food labels represent an important opportunity for consumer packaged goods manufacturers to differentiate their products and build consumer trust, but the opportunities are lost if labels aren't being read. This survey shows a lot of upside potential for getting consumers involved in using product labels."
Fat content is the item regularly checked by the highest number of consumers globally (49%) as well as in the North American (57%) and European (49%) regions. In Latin America, caloric content is checked regularly by the largest number of shoppers (59%), and preservatives topped the list in the Asia-Pacific region (47%). Several market-specific findings were noteworthy as well. For example, 60% of respondents in Mexico regularly check the fat content of the foods they buy, 62% in Brazil regularly check caloric content, and over 60% of Chinese consumers regularly check the content levels of additives, preservatives, and coloring.

Of the least regularly-checked items among U.S. consumers, half or more said they "never" check for the inclusion of food coloring, gluten levels, or the glycemic index.

Phil Lempert, a food trends analyst and ACNielsen consultant, said some of the findings can be attributed to what information is currently available on product labels. "Relatively few people check the glycemic index because very few companies are including the information on the labels of products sold in the U.S. But that will soon change. The glycemic index is set to become the next big thing in the food industry because it takes carbohydrates to the next level - from the amount of carbs a product contains to the impact that the carb level will have on a person's weight and energy."

According to the survey, just 35% of U.S. respondents have heard of the glycemic index, a number that indicates how much a food item will impact a person's blood sugar. Across all markets, awareness ranged from a low of 11% in Japan and the Netherlands to a high of 82% in Australia. Respondents were also asked whether they know the difference between saturated and unsaturated fat. In the U.S. 58% of respondents said they do. Across all markets, responses ranged from a low of 27% in Japan to a high of 82% in Norway.

Among other findings, 65% of U.S. respondents said they "mostly" understand nutritional information labels on the food products they buy — the highest level among the 38 markets surveyed. In Italy, just 6% of respondents indicated such an understanding.

When are people most likely to check nutritional labels? Globally, consumers in most markets said they are most likely to do so when buying a product for the first time. Across all 38 markets, just 21% of consumers said they "always" read the labels.

When Are Consumers Most Likely to Read Food Labels?
Question: When you are buying packaged food, when would you check the nutritional information on the package? U.S. Respondents Global Respondents U.S. Rank Out of 38 Markets Surveyed Worldwide
When I'm thinking of buying a product for the first time 45% 41% Tie for 10th
When buying certain food types 26% 27% Tie for 22nd
Always 23% 21% Tie for 15th
When I am on a diet/trying to lose weight 23% 16% Tie for 4th
When buying products for my children 12% 12% Tie for 14th
When I have the time 9% 16% 35th
Never 6% 8% Tie for 21st

Source: ACNielsen Online Consumer Confidence StudyThe findings come from the ACNielsen Online Consumer Confidence Survey, the largest twice-yearly global survey of its kind, which gauges consumers' current confidence levels, spending habits/intentions and other topics of importance to the CPG industry.

The survey, which took place in May, 2005 over the Internet, polled more than 21,100 respondents in 38 markets: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA. All markets had sample sizes of approximately 500, except for China, France, Germany, UK and USA, which had sample sizes of approximately 1000. The survey has a margin for error of plus or minus 3.3% to 4.4%.

To see an overview of the survey please visit http://acnielsen.com.

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