Giving Consumers What They Really Want

When nutrition shelf-labeling systems such as NuVal and Guiding Stars first appeared in grocery stores nearly eight years ago, skeptics doubted that they would have any impact on shopping behavior. The idea that shoppers would use additional information to consider alternatives at shelf—even pay more for products with greater nutritional value—seemed far fetched to many.

Well, we now have data that suggests the skeptics may have underestimated the American shopper.

A 535,000-person observational study published in the Journal of Marketing Research found that the presence of a nutritional scoring system significantly improved shoppers’ food choices. Specifically, the study found that labeling the nutritional value of products across eight categories resulted in a 20 percent increase in nutrition content of purchases in these categories. The study also found that shoppers’ price sensitivity decreased by 19 percent while overall sales increased following introduction of the nutritional scoring system.

One of the co-authors of the study, Boston College assistant marketing professor Hristina Nikolova, credits the simplicity of nutritional scoring systems for driving behavior change:

Shoppers usually have limited amount of time when they go grocery shopping, so picking up every product, looking at its Nutrition Facts Panel, comparing it to other products and performing this activity for every product you need takes a lot of time and energy. [A nutritional scoring system] makes it very easy for shoppers to find healthier alternatives.

So, what are we to make of these study results? Nothing more than the simple fact that consumers want—and respond positively to—nutrition education.

As consumers—whether Boomers or Millennials or everyone in between—seek to lead healthier lifestyles, the role of marketers shifts from evangelizing health and wellness to providing actionable information and solutions for leading a healthier lifestyle.

While we see manufacturers innovating to provide healthier products that meet the desires of American consumers, we don’t see a commensurate effort to educate shoppers about why products are healthier and how they fit into a balanced, healthy diet.

Americans who are seeking to lead a healthier lifestyle want more information, not less. Building upon the success of nutritional scoring systems with meaningful engagement and education can deliver significant value.