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Reports based on proposals on the overall picture of food labeling "Survey on spatial information content" and "Application-based food labeling validation survey" publicized (Japan)

Reports "Survey on spatial information content" and "Application-based food labeling validation survey" have been publicized at the Consumer Commission Food Labeling Section Meeting (Cabinet Office) on August 6, 2021. These have been needed to be considered in response to "proposals on the overall picture of food labeling", which was made in August 2019. It’s been a while since then, so we would like to try to organize it again.

Background and purpose

The background and purpose of the study are as follows (excerpt from the report on "The overall picture of food labeling").

Background

  • Number of characters on products has increased as the content of mandatory labeling items have increased
  • If mandatory labeling items keep increasing in the future, the situation will be more serious and it will be possible that consumers may overlook labeling on safety.

Purpose

  • While organizing the current situation surrounding food labeling, the following points on the overall picture of food labeling is to be considered, fully paying attention to the needs of consumers.
    1. Priority among labeling items
    2. The combination of provision of information on websites and conventional labeling on containers and packages including the possibility of labeling using the Internet

The following proposals were made in the report, which directly led to the two survey projects mentioned above.

  • A research is necessary based on scientific approaches such as understanding the amount of information, which is
    - the ratio of collective labeling to possible labeling space
    - design of collective labeling
    - font/font size, etc.,
    to clarify the definition of "comprehensibility" and to grasp a more detailed understanding of the actual conditions and problems of consumer use, etc.
  • A survey to understand the current status of good practices, etc., is needed to consider web-based food labeling.

The summary of "Survey on spatial information content"

Two surveys will be conducted, "Survey on spatial information content" and "Survey on visibility/legibility by consumers".

The summary of "Survey on spatial information content"

  • The following items on about 300 purchased processed foods are to be measured
    • Check the available labeling surface area and number of surfaces of the entire containers and Packaging
    • Calculate the ratio of the collective labeling area to the available labeling surface area
    • Measurement of
      "font size"
      "number of characters"
      "deformation rate of characters"
      "space between lines"
      "length of a line"
      "area", etc.
      in the labeling of used by/best-before date, nutrition facts, and warnings, etc.

Survey on Visibility/legibility by Consumers

  • A survey is to be conducted on the impact of "font size", "space between lines", "length of a line", "deformation rate"* on visibility/legibility ( "Survey on Visibility/legibility by Consumers")
    * Deformation rate (percentage of the length and width. When both height and width are 100%, no deformation is assumed.)
  • Eye-tracking analysis to determine the tendency of labeling consumers look at/do not look at when selecting a product. ("Eye-tracking analysis of consumers")

Necessary information will be vary depending on a viewpoint about the findings in the report. I will pick up the content which may be considered generally important, but there are more detailed data in the actual report, so I recommend that you look there.

  • As a general tendency, warning statement, ingredients list, nutrition facts are indicated together on the backside. In other words, the reason for a large amount of information may be the fact that there is too much information concentrated on the backside.
  • A previous survey on "difficulty in reading" using a sample of Japanese pamphlets showed that "80% of consumers do not want to read or feel stressed when the amount of information exceeds 19%". Taken this 19% as the standard value, about 61% of the food package samples exceed the standard value, 39% were below the value.
  • It is found that when consumers look at packages, they tend to pay attention to the upper left of the backside of packages. On the other hand, they barely look at barcodes and surrounding warning information on the same backside, which reveals consumers may not read them efficiently.

The summary of "Application-based food labeling validation survey"

This is a demonstration experiment for consumers in food supermarkets using labeling of containers and packaging converted into a digital tool.

Application-based food labeling validation survey

  1. Food manufacturers and data management companies provide the data for the food labeling
  2. Create the database to store provided food labeling data
  3. Create an app and have monitors (consumers) scan the barcode of products at a supermarket
  4. Display the data stored in the database in the app and perform questionnaires to consumers before and after the survey

Various information can be obtained from the result of the report. I will pick up the content which may be considered generally important, but the actual report includes technical issues and considerations, so I recommend that you look there as well.

  • More than 70% of the participants answered that they have changed or are likely to change their purchasing decisions after viewing the food labeling on the app, indicating that consumers may change their purchasing behavior by checking the food labeling on the app.
  • Consumers do not appreciate the convenience just by the basic functions such as ease of checking and collecting information. It can be inferred that there is a need for additional value beyond the ease of checking and collecting information for consumers to dare to use an app to check food information.
  • When asked about their needs for food labeling, the most common response was they like "to have more concise information indicated on products", the second common one was "to have ‘how to use the nutrition facts information indicated", and the third one was "to have more items for maintaining and improving health indicated". We can see that many consumers are paying attention to health-conscious food choices.

For easy-to-understand food labeling

Currently, many business operators are voluntarily tackling "easy-to-understand food labeling" by making the text larger, devising colors and designs, and providing detailed information on the web. The reports will be helpful to those who deal with food labeling since they provide tips for considering objective definitions, elements to be improved, and evidence of consumer intentions about these "comprehensibility".

Overseas readers will also find many issues in common with these efforts in other countries, but the report will also provide insights unique to the Japanese market. We hope you find this information useful when exporting food products to Japan or importing food products from Japan.

October 2021