Are food labels too confusing? A quarter of people with allergies think so

Are food labels too confusing? A quarter of people with allergies think so
Are food labels too confusing? A quarter of people with allergies think so

Food labels are too confusing for people with allergies, according to a survey of British consumers.

Only 37 per cent of people think it is easy to identify which allergens a product is free from by its label.

While pre-packaged goods are legally required to highlight the presence of any allergens, almost half of people in Britain are unsure whether or not allergen labels are clear, and a further 15 per cent actively disagree that this is the case.

‘A perceived lack of clarity’

Results of a poll by survey group Mintel showed a UK-wide allergen labelling system on ‘free-from’ product packaging appealed to 29 per cent of those who had bought or used free-from products. This number rose to 39 per cent when it came to those who avoided foods or ingredients because of an allergy or intolerance.

The UK free-from market was estimated to be worth £837 million in 2018 and has seen stellar growth with sales up by 133 per cent since 2013.

The survey comes following the death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse, who suffered an allergic reaction to a baguette from Pret a Manger.

Emma Clifford, Associate Director of Food and Drink at Mintel, said, “Given the perceived lack of clarity and the dangerous health implications that ambiguous allergen labelling can have on consumers, there is a real need for companies to make the presence of allergens very obvious on labelling.”

According to Mintel, just under half (48 per cent) of consumers say that they, or someone in their household, avoid at least one food or ingredient, with 16 to 24 year olds (61 per cent) the most likely age group to report household avoidance of foods or ingredients.

Allergy or intolerance

Only 20 per cent of consumers or members of their households avoid certain ingredients due to an allergy or intolerance, which is on a par with those who do so as part of a healthy lifestyle (22 per cent).

Three in 10 avoid certain foods/ingredients for other reasons such as ethical or vegetarian, rising to 38 per cent of under 25s and 41 per cent of females in the age group.

Dairy is the most commonly avoided ingredient (17 per cent) which has remained unchanged over the last three years. Soya, fish, red meat and lactose make up the top five foods or ingredients which people avoid.

Clifford added, “Allergies or intolerances aren’t the main reason that consumers are avoiding certain foods or ingredients.

“Healthy lifestyles and ethical and environmental concerns are also boosting the appeal of these products, with young consumers in particular most likely to be driven by these factors.

“The fact that as many as a quarter of free-from purchasers do not avoid any foods or ingredients reflects that the pool of free-from users is far wider than just those who fully avoid certain ingredients, either due to allergies or intolerances, or for other reasons.”

Avoiding gluten

Gluten-free products remain the nation’s most popular type of free-from food, with 27 per cent of consumers having purchased or eaten these over six months, despite only 12 per cent of consumers reporting that they or somebody else in their household avoid gluten.

Meanwhile, nearly a quarter of consumers have purchased dairy substitutes, while 19 per cent have bought dairy-free foods.