More Aussies using food packaging health ratings

More than half of Australians are now using the health star ratings on food packaging to make healthier choices.

A new Canstar Blue survey has found that, over the last year, consumers have become more aware of the food ratings and more likely to opt for healthier options.

In September 2015 – just over a year after the Federal Government’s health star ratings system for food packaging was launched – Canstar Blue reported that Australians had largely welcomed the extra advice, but fewer than half of adults said the labelling was impacting their purchase decisions. Since then the number has increased from 48% to 55%.

What are the health star ratings?

The front-of-pack labelling system was introduced in mid-2015 in response to Australia’s growing obesity crisis. It’s designed to give consumers a quick and easy way to compare similar food types in order to make healthier choices. “The more stars, the healthier”, the slogan says.

The system is voluntary and is used in addition to the mandatory nutrition information panel which already provides important details about the contents of the food. Rather than having to study the detailed information across two separate products, the idea of this system is that the health star ratings will provide quick and convenient ‘at a glance’ advice to busy shoppers.

However, the system has not come without controversy, with some major food brands acting slowly, or simply refusing, to introduce the ratings to their products. There have also been concerns raised about the ratings giving mixed messages, with some seemingly unhealthy products receiving positive star ratings. Brands have also been accused of using the system creatively to “game” more favourable ratings.

How do consumers feel about the ratings?

Despite the concerns, more consumers are actively checking the health star ratings to make better-informed food choices. The following table shows the outcomes from our survey in 2015, compared with the results this year.

Statement % respondents agreed in 2016 % respondents agreed in 2015
I’m aware of Australia’s health star ratings system on food packaging 75% 67%
Of those who are aware of the system:
I know what the health star ratings mean and find them easy to understand 76% 58%
I find the health star ratings helpful in understanding what is and isn’t good for me 72% 60%
The health star ratings have an impact on my purchase decisions 55% 48%
I tend to opt for products that have a higher health star rating because they are healthier 57% 50%
I find it confusing that some seemingly unhealthy foods have high star ratings 71% 68%
It’s important to clearly detail how healthy or not food is on the packaging 85% 78%

Source: Canstar Blue survey of 3108 adults July 2016 and 3002 adults August 2015.

Given that an increased number of food products now carry the health ratings, it is perhaps unsurprising that more consumers are aware of the system. However, these results do show that, of those who are aware of the ratings, a growing number are inclined to use them to make healthier choices when they do their grocery shopping. Whether or not this meets the Federal Government’s expectations or not is another matter.

Supermarket satisfaction ratings

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