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‘Added Sugars’ on Nutrition Facts Label Causes Confusion

Denis Storey
August 5, 2014

On-Demand Webinar: Labeling Changes 2020

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On-Demand Webinar: Labeling Changes 2020

Elizabeth Salvo from ESHA Research joined TraceGains for a conversation about the labeling change that went into effect in 2020. Watch the recording to learn best practices and see case studies.

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A June/July national online consumer research study of 1,088 participants, conducted by Turner Research Network, a marketing research consulting firm in Dunwoody, Georgia, revealed confusion about the “added sugars” section on the proposed nutrition facts label redesign.

The Nutrition Facts Label is enduring its first significant revision since 1994. Earlier this year, the FDA released a new label design proposal. The changes were updates to the serving size requirements, daily value calculations, and declaration of sugars. 

The International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) commissioned the Turner Research Network to conduct consumer research to learn the following: 

  • How consumers would interpret the new “Added Sugars” line, looking solely at the nutrition facts label (No ingredients listed).

  • The consumer’s perception of the relationship between total carbohydrates, sugars, and added sugars.

  • How consumers use the nutrition facts label during the product purchasing/decision-making process.

Researchers divided the participants into three groups based on the U.S. Census profile (i.e., region, gender, age, race), and shown three nutrition facts labels, including:  

  1. The proposed format panel with the “sugars” designation as shown on the current nutrition facts label.

  2. The proposed format panel with the “sugars” designation and “Added Sugars” as a subgroup designation.

  3. Proposed format panel with the “total sugars” designation and “Added Sugars” as a subgroup designation.

Key Findings 

Based on the results of the study, many participants interpreted “Added Sugars” as meaning that the product had more sugar than was identified in the “Sugars” or “Total Sugars” line. 92% of the participants who saw the current sugars version got the answer correct, whereas 55% were accurate when shown panel 2 and 66% right with panel 3. 

What does “Added Sugars” mean? According to the research results, “More than a third believe it simply means more sugar was added to the products, and 28% think the line distinguishes between added sugars and naturally occurring sugars, [and] about one in five (19%) don’t know what it means.” 

FDA Rationale

According to the FDA: “The current label requires a declaration of ‘Sugars.’ The proposed rule would require a declaration of ‘Added sugars’ as well, indented under ‘Sugars,’ to help consumers understand how much sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added to the product. This proposal considers new data and information, including recommendations from federal agencies and data from other expert groups, citizen petitions, and public comments.

“For example, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend reducing caloric intake from added sugars and solid fats because eating these can cause people to eat less of nutrient-rich foods and can also increase how many calories they take in overall. Added sugars provide no additional nutrient value and are known as ‘empty calories.’ Expert groups such as the American Heart Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and the World Health Organization recommend decreasing intake of added sugars.”

TraceGains spoke with Elizabeth Salvo from ESHA about the latest food labeling changes. Watch the recording here.

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