Putting words in our mouths

Putting words in our mouths

I had the pleasure of listening to a British Nutrition Foundation digital event last week about health claims.
The Health Claims Unpacked project has been investigating the communication of health claims on food packaging for the past three years.

Researchers have been gathering data on consumers’ understanding of health claims and their preferences for how these are worded, as well as holding interviews with manufacturers, consumer organisations and other relevant stakeholders to understand their views and experiences in the use of health claims on pack, which falls under the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (retained for use in GB).

The ultimate objective of the project is to create recommendations to inform policy makers with the intention that more detailed guidance is produced to accompany the current regulation, to enable food manufacturers, retailers and marketers to communicate more effectively about the health benefits of foods and drinks, which could help consumers to make more informed choices.

This is a wholly noteworthy project. Personally, I find some of the wording on packaging hard to decipher – and I don’t mind putting a few terms in Google to help me buy. But don’t take my word for it. According to Professor Rodney Jones at the University of Reading, health claims…tend to be written in “very dense scientific language.”

The majority of shoppers will not try to understand what’s written let alone ask. This means the language is a deterrent rather than an aid.

Studying the results of focus groups, interviews with manufacturers and an online study of more than 1,500 consumers provided insight into cultural differences in the use of, and responses to, health claims across European countries. Many consumers see the claims as manipulative marketing, complex and even feel they cannot trust food and drink manufacturers’ claims.

Authorised wording fares a little better. That is worrying.

Given the climate we’re in plus a move to health/plant/immune boosting foods and drinks, this isn’t something industry can afford to get wrong.

Whatever is to be made, it has to be understood by consumers that they will derive some benefit. If a product isn’t simple and easy to understand – it will quickly become obsolete and thus worthless.

It was Albert Einstein who said, “If you can’t explain it, you don’t understand it well enough.” What Einstein was driving at is now commonly referred to as: keep it short and simple or keep it simple and straightforward (KISS).

Health Claims Unpacked will launch an online hub informing industry what works for consumers. Manufacturers will have to work closely with authorities to see whether their amended wording is acceptable

We can’t forget that the objective of this whole process is to deliver the simplest possible communication.
The easier something is to understand – the more likely it is to be adopted and engaged with. KISS is the rule of thumb that I am sure is being applied when considering food and drink end-products. However, it is important not to make things so simple that they compromise the functionality of the product – consumers will live with a little complexity if it enhances their overall experience.

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