The "perfect storm" of labeling challenges is intensifying. There are three main components: increasing consumer demand for accurate and comprehensive ingredient inclusion, continuing efforts to "spin" products in their best light, and the physical amount of space in which all of this can be done.
One casualty is people who can't read two-point type (an affliction that extends far beyond the senior population).Total transparency typically requires more information. Marketing spin demands as much content and graphic hyperbole as possible. And all of this is supposed to be legible on labels that can only be so large due to physical constraints, and increasingly, environmental trends toward minimalizing packaging.
The author oifooducate.com summed up the labeling challenge succinctly: "Visionaries see a day where each ingredient of every product on a shelf can be connected directly to the farm, factory, and other stakeholders involved in its processing. Now, how do you fit all that information on a pack of gum?"
There's no doubt that the product manufacturing industry has made positive strides in some areas the last few years. A reminder of where we were seven years ago helps frame the discussion. According to fooducate, "Oct 2008-Smart Choices launched an industry effort to promote a standardized benchmark for front of package consumer information. Initial supporters included General Mills, Con-Agra, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and Unilever ... Summer 2009--Smart Choices launched formally with several hundreds of products labeled with the green check mark. Froot Loops became the poster child for everything wrong with an industry backed nutrition rating system."
Today, relatively few people would claim Froot Loops as "nutritional." But, the overall challenge remains: How to present product packaging in its best light while maintaining complete and truthful disclosure in a legible format. Following are frontline recommendations:
Use free technology to tackle teeny type. Through the label and elsewhere when possible, direct shoppers to empower their technology to help readability on the spot. There are now multiple free Android and iPhone apps that enable transforming your smartphone camera into a convenient magnifying glass. (I tested this out using my Android phone and easily was able to read even the tiniest type on a prescription bottle--no small feat.)
Revisit labeling to clarify exactly what needs to be stated on the label, and what can be...