Assessing the Effectiveness of Front of Pack Labels: Findings from an Online Randomised-Controlled Experiment in a Representative British Sample

Nutrients. 2021 Mar 10;13(3):900. doi: 10.3390/nu13030900.


Front of pack food labels (FOPLs) provide accessible nutritional information to guide consumer choice. Using an online experiment with a large representative British sample, we aimed to examine whether FOPLs improve participants' ability to identify the healthiness of foods and drinks. The primary aim was to compare ability to rank between FOPL groups and a no label control. Adults (≥18 years), recruited from the NatCen panel, were randomised to one of five experimental groups (Multiple Traffic Light, MTL; Nutri-Score, N-S; Warning Label, WL; Positive Choice tick, PC; no label control). Stratification variables were year of recruitment to panel, sex, age, government office region, and household income. Packaging images were created for three versions, varying in healthiness, of six food and drink products (pizza, drinks, cakes, crisps, yoghurts, breakfast cereals). Participants were asked to rank the three product images in order of healthiness. Ranking was completed on a single occasion and comprised a baseline measure (with no FOPL), and a follow-up measure including the FOPL as per each participant's experimental group. The primary outcome was the ability to accurately rank product healthiness (all products ranked correctly vs. any incorrect). In 2020, 4504 participants had complete data and were included in the analysis. The probability of correct ranking at follow-up, and improving between baseline and follow-up, was significantly greater across all products for the N-S, MTL and WL groups, compared to control. This was seen for only some of the products for the PC group. The largest effects were seen for N-S, followed by MTL. These analyses were adjusted for stratification variables, ethnicity, education, household composition, food shopping responsibility, and current FOPL use. Exploratory analyses showed a tendency for participants with higher compared to lower education to rank products more accurately. Conclusions: All FOPLs were effective at improving participants' ability to correctly rank products according to healthiness in this large representative British sample, with the largest effects seen for N-S, followed by MTL.

Keywords: comprehension; front of pack label; nutrition policy; nutritional labelling; randomised controlled experiment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Consumer Behavior*
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Food
  • Food Labeling*
  • Food Quality*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nutritive Value*
  • United Kingdom
  • Young Adult