I was invited on the judging panel for the Irish Quality Food Awards, an event that is open to entries from all Irish retailers, food producers, wholesalers and foodservice operators throughout the Island of Ireland.

The awards are unique in that judging is not blind and in fact all aspects of the product are taken into consideration including packaging, product labelling and price point. The importance of evaluating these extrinsic characteristics is that they enable products to be judged as close as possible to the daily decision making processes of consumers who buy with their eyes, rather than by how a product tastes.

Product packaging was highlighted at the awards with panel discussions on products visuals, wording and branding, with particular focus on the importance of labelling as a purchase trigger.

In today’s retail and foodservice environment labelling is becoming more important particularly as consumers become more health conscious. Consumers want clarity on both ingredients and nutritional content whilst also demanding transparency regarding origin of products. However, execution of such information is failing consumers due to a lack of uniformity or consistency in how information is displayed. As a result consumers have become disengaged and somewhat overwhelmed by product and diet information.

Furthermore, health messages on packaging are typically viewed as ineffective by consumers suggesting that they lack any real impact at point of purchase. Mintel’s Attitudes To Food Ireland 2013 report noted that some 28% of RoI and 27% of NI consumers feel confused about what is healthy for them due to conflicting information on health foods and diets and only 18% of NI and 12% of RoI consumers pay attention to colour coded labelling. Thus consumers’ confusion over labelling has resulted in such systems, initially developed to assist consumers in their food purchase decisions, failing to have resonance.

Going forward, food manufacturers and retailers must focus on information being displayed in a legible and clear format on product labels to encourage consumers to read labelling. The importance of the appropriate display of information is supported by the forthcoming new legislation, commonly referred to as the Food Information to Consumer Regulation (FIC) which will be applicable to all food and drink products across the European Union. The new legislation will require:

  • Mandatory information on processed foods
  • Mandatory origin labelling of unprocessed meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry
  • Highlighting of allergens in the list of ingredients
  • Better legibility, which includes specification of minimum font size
  • Requirements on information on allergens also cover non pre-packed foods including those sold in restaurants and cafes.

This legislation will prompt a redesign of packaging labels and emphasises the need for product information to be displayed in both a clear and transparent format. Irish manufacturers, retailers and foodservice providers that embrace these legislation have the opportunity to not only further improve their product offering but to ultimately support Irish consumers in their food purchase decisions.

I would like to wish all entrants the best of luck and look forward to the Awards Ceremony in the Mansion House in Dublin on the 11th September!

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