Be clear on packaging


Is it OK to label dip with just 0.4 percent avocado as 'guacamole dip'? Food packaging often does more to mislead than to guide consumers, but now manufacturers can find help in a new book.


By Claus Rosenkrantz Hansen, CBS Library

In the supermarket cold counter you can find smoked saddle of pork with a highly visible label informing you that this product contains only 3 percent fat. That will probably convince many consumers that they can put it in their shopping basket with a clear conscience.

But if you knew that it is near impossible to find any smoked saddle of pork that contains more than 3 percent fat, you might feel more mislead than informed.

It is just one example of how food packaging can mislead consumers rather than guide them, whether or not that is the intention. Therefore researchers from the CBS-based research project FairSpeak have written the book Fair snak på fødevareemballager ('Fair communication on food packaging') which will be published in January.

The book lists 80 'principles of fairness' to help food manufacturers, politicians and authorities better manage food packaging communication. One of the issues is content declarations. There are plenty of examples where consumers have to search hard for a content declaration and that makes it difficult to get an overview of the product's contents.

Must not be misleading
Viktor Smith is project manager of FairSpeak. He and Henrik Selsøe Sørensen are two of the authors behind the book. They are both Associate Professors at the Department of International Business Communication at CBS.

- There is a rule which states that food manufacturers must not mislead consumers. But there are plenty of examples of misleading food packaging. The authorities' problem is how to enforce this rule. They do so by having lawyers assess how the packaging affects consumers. To qualify these assessments, we offer a number of analytical tools and methods so as to ultimately make it easier to manage the rules, says Viktor Smith.

Competitive advantage
The book is also aimed at food manufacturers who wish to communicate in a fair and honest way with consumers. And the researchers believe that fair communication can be a competitive advantage because some consumers demand clear content declarations.

The researchers emphasise that food manufacturers should not necessarily be seen as villains. The project has not focused on the cases of actual fraud and where the food legislation has in fact been violated. The book deals only with cases that are within the law, but where the packaging is not clear in its message to the consumer.

Other research has shown that consumers are affected by many other factors than packaging when shopping. But the researchers still believe that clear and fair information on packaging is important to give consumers the opportunity to make the choices they feel are right.

- There are still consumers out there who examine the products they buy and who e.g. prefer to buy products free from additives. They may not examine the products every time, but they do sometimes, and in these situations it must be possible for consumers to inform themselves from the packaging without being mislead. Therefore it is important that the food packaging communicates in a fair and honest way, says Viktor Smith.

The FairSpeak group is financed by the Programme Commission on Food and Health under the Danish Council for Strategic Research. The next step for the project group is to offer help and guidance to manufacturers in working out packaging for specific products.

The authors behind 'Fair snak på fødevareemballager' are Viktor Smith, Henrik Selsøe Sørensen, Jesper Clement, Peter Møgelvang-Hansen. The book is published in January.
Contact Viktor Smith or Henrik Selsøe Sørensen for further information.  

Read more on FairSpeak and other research stories in Research Reporter (in Danish)

Contact Viktor Smith or Henrik Selsøe Sørensen for more information.  

The page was last edited by: Communications // 12/17/2017