Most Households Read Food Labels

Most Households Read Food Labels

Todd Hale, Senior Vice President, Consumer and Shopper Insights

Last June, we fielded a survey to our Nielsen Homescan panel which included a question asking primary shoppers about their tendencies for reading labels on food and beverage packages.  Just under two-thirds of U.S. households (61%) agree completely or agree somewhat that they read these product labels, with 31% agreeing completely.  And as you might expect, we do see some differences when we drill down across demographic groups, but we thought it would be interesting to also look at how shoppers at various retailers differ in terms of reading labels.

Here are the demographic groups who tell us they are more apt to read labels and whose response indexed 10% or higher versus the average household response.  No surprise here: better educated, older (probably needing to look at labels due to a health condition), higher income, and those in a professional/managerial occupation.  Is there an opportunity to increase font side on package labels to help older consumers decipher product ingredients?

% Households agreeing completely to “usually reading labels on food & beverage packages”:

  • Total Households:  30.5%
  • Female Head College Grad:  36.0% (118 index)
  • Female Head Age 55 to 64:  35.0% (115)
  • Female Head Age 65+:  34.8% (114)
  • Incomes of $100k+:  34.1% (112)
  • Professional/Managerial:  34.0% (111

Here are the demographic groups least likely to read labels and whose response indexed 10% or lower versus the average household response. These groups were blue collar, lower educated, families with kids of all ages, and larger families.  I suppose it makes sense that those larger, on-the-go families, who are managing tight budgets with more mouths to feed, are less likely to read labels on a regular basis.

However, it is disturbing given childhood obesity rates in this country, but also a good reason why I am pulling for the Guiding Stars program deployed by Delhaize banners to simplify the recognition of healthier products.

  • Blue Collar:  24.8% (81)
  • Female Head Not High School Grad:  24.9% (82)
  • Families w/kids 13 to 17:  25.5% (84)
  • Female Head Age 35 to 44:  26.0% (85)
  • Families w/kids 6 to 12:  26.3% (86)
  • Families w/kids under 6:  26.7% (88)
  • 3 to 4 members:  27.1% (89)
  • 5+ family members:  27.4% (90)

Here are the retailers whose shoppers (based on shopping in a retailer at least once over the year-ending May 2, 2009) were most likely to read labels and whose response indexed 10% or greater versus the average household response.  No surprise seeing Whole Foods top the list.  With Publix stores located mostly in the state of Florida (our oldest state) it ties with the above demographics insights.  Costco and Safeway probably benefit from a combination of their higher income draw as well as from focus on better-for-you offerings.

  • Whole Foods:  52.4% (172)
  • Trader Joe’s:  42.9% (141)
  • Publix:  35.6% (117)
  • Costco:  33.5% (110)
  • Safeway Corp Grocery (all banners combined):  33.5% (110)

I’m happy to report that no retailer we tabbed had a response with an index of 10% or lower versus the average household.  However, only 26.8% of households who shop a Tobacco Store (index of 88) agree completely with usually reading labels.  These shoppers obviously forgot about reading labels a long time ago.

For further information or to arrange a comprehensive presentation on consumer shopping patterns, please contact Todd Hale at or 859-905-4615.