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As shoppers and consumers, we are familiar with a vast array of logos on our food packaging. The biggest and most global schemes include Fair Trade, GM free, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free. These logos are intended to help purchase decisions and quickly signpost product benefits or disadvantages at a glance.
Several countries have created and rolled out specific ways to communicate healthy foods to consumers such as the Swedish Keyhole scheme and the Health Star system in Australia. There are also numerous ways of signposting to consumers the more negative aspects of foods with traffic light labeling and warning labels. All of these systems were born from a consumer and public health need and then based on rigorous stakeholder research followed by consumer testing.
There have been assumptions that labelling and communicating to consumers about biofortification would be overly complicated; some observers have argued that the lack of a definition for biofortification at a global (Codex) level, and gaps in regulations generally, would make it difficult to talk to consumers about biofortification. But it is now the case that existing regulatory frameworks are already in place that allow biofortified foods to be freely sold and marketed.
The difficult part is the way manufacturers talk to the consumer, and one obvious lesson from research is to not use the word “biofortification”—it has a technical feel and raises questions. All the consumer needs to know is that it is a natural source of nutrition, which is exactly the case with biofortification.
Consumers do not always read labels to make purchase decisions. If they do, they generally do not understand the label. In a recent global consumer study it was found that half of the world's consumers only “partly” understand the nutritional labels on food, with 60% of Asia–Pacific's citizens leading the world in this lack of understanding followed by Europeans (50%) and Latin Americans (45%). The researchers found that 57.7% consumers “don’t understand” the food labels, whereas 39.7% “partially understand” food label information. Fifteen percent of the global population is illiterate, and literacy levels are generally much lower in low- and middle-income countries, so any logo scheme has to be inclusive of all people. Consumers don’t have the time or in some cases the ability to read labels but research shows that nutrition and ethical considerations are the biggest trends and important factors in making food purchases. Consumers like simple front of pack labelling, this is why governments all over the world are initiating simple labeling systems incorporating logos, such as traffic light systems or the Swedish Keyhole, and how Fair Trade International has become most recognised ethical label in the world.
HarvestPlus has now embarked on their search to find the ideal logo to promote nutrient-enriched crops. It is now even more apparent this logo scheme is needed through the research from the GAIN and HarvestPlus partnership on the commercialisation of biofortified crops; the past year of research from the programme has echoed HarvestPlus' early findings that a logo is essential to move forward with commercialisation.
This is a call to all with an interest in food and nutrition, to those involved in food supply chains and those working in the food industry, to help out and spend 10 minutes giving your view.
This survey is now live and is open until October 27th. Results will be shared in January 2021.
This article was written by Jenny Walton of HarvestPlus.