Facts Up Front Label – Recycling Consumer Confusion

In January we reported on the food industry’s attempt to preempt an FDA directive on front of package nutrition labels. It was called Nutrition Keys and it was supposed to make it easier for consumers to choose healthy packaged food. Now the industry groups that invented this labeling scheme have changed its name to Facts Up Front. There is also a $50 million marketing campaign to educate consumers on the value of this labeling method.

Reminder: the label itself includes 4 mandatory pieces of information:

  • Calories per serving
  • Amount and percentage of saturated fat
  • Amount and percentage of sodium
  • Amount of total sugars

The label also includes up to 2 values for nutrients to encourage such as potassium, fiber, and some vitamins.

Why change the name of a nascent program that barely any consumer has heard of? And Why now?

What you need to know:

Today there is no law or regulation requiring manufacturers to provide nutrition information on the FRONT of the product package. Food companies do have to provide a nutrition label and an ingredient list somewhere on the pack. That somewhere is usually on the back or side.

But consumers have been complaining that the nutrition label is too confusing and makes it difficult to figure out what is healthy or not. As a result, in the past few years, there has been a bevy of initiatives trying to “simplify” things for us. You can read about the various attempts in this post that we continually update.

The industry is concerned that the government will intervene with a strict set of directives. So each time a new government report or decision on the matter is due for publication, an industry proposed solution is put out front and center.

But here are the problems with Nutrition Keys Facts Up Front:

  1. There is no color coding of the nutrient info, so a consumer does not know if a certain amount of sodium or fat is high or not.
  2. The value for sugars is very confusing. Is 14 grams a lot or a little?  Also, how much of the sugar is naturally occurring and how much has been added? Naturally occurring sugars (in fruit, veggies, dairy) at least come with additional nutrients. Lastly, there is no indication of the daily value for sugar consumption. (By the way, The 14 grams in the example above are 3.5 teaspoons of sugar.)
  3. Including 2 positive nutrients on the label will confuse consumers – A product high in saturated fat but also high in fiber – is it good or not?  This will also encourage excessive fortification of foods just to appear healthy. You can fortify cardboard with some vitamins, it still won’t make it healthy to eat.
  4. There is no way to know how processed a food product is just by looking at the front of pack. Consumers should be encouraged to read the ingredient list.

What to do at the supermarket:

As usual, your only choice is to educate yourself on nutrition labels and ingredient lists. Reading and understanding them is the only way to figure out if you want to buy a food item.

(h/t to Marion Nestle)


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  • http://polishmamaontheprairie.blogspot.com/ Polish Mama on the Prairie

    I agree.  I’ve thusfar not paid any attention to that obvious marketing attempt.  I read the Nutrition label.  It’s not confusing after you get used to it and know which red flags to look for.  Also, we don’t buy and eat a lot of processed foods, I do a lot of home cooking and find it is just healthier and tastier.  The weekends are a great time to pick one day and just cook several reheatable meals and bake some goodies and stock up the fridge for the week.Also, I think the only thing that would be useful for updating nutrition labels is after the ingredient label, putting a section that lists anything not found naturally in the fields since foods that don’t come straight from the field tend to be the worst for you I think.  That includes colorings, added fats like trans fats, sweeteners, added vitamins, etc.  That’s just my opinion. 

    But the most important thing is consumers starting to feel accountable for their own health as well and learning to read the nutrition labels.  It’s a life skill, it’s basic.

  • Steve

    Maybe a step in the right direction, but it keeps consumers focused on numbers instead of underlying ingredients. My company is perhaps unique in placing ALL of our ingredients in FRONT of each package. It’s great, healthy, real food. But numbers counters might avoid it because of the 2.5 gm of saturated fat. This “fat” comes entirely from organic cashews, the main ingredient. Just how bad for you is nut fat? It also has 12 gm. of “sugar,” but here, too, the ingredients that make it sweet, for example, organic whole date sugar, are whole foods. Steve at http://www.simple-fare.com

  • Miltonstokes

    How about NuVal? Comments?

  • Pat Young

    per serving….how many servings per container??? That would be good info up front.
    Ex: per serving (3 servings this container)

    • carol

      This info is on the required Nutrition Facts label and pretty easy to locate… as is all the other info. Do we really need two (redundant) labels?

  • James Cooper

    Not quite right. A fruit that has naturally occurring sugars may also have useful nutrients, but the sugar itself is still sugar whether naturally occurring or added. The idea that some sugars are better than others is simply wrong. It’s still sugar.

  • kturner


    Just a reminder too that GMO foods are not required by law.  I feel that I have a right to know what I am eating and feeding my children.  Whether you believe in the GMO movement or not, we have a right to know.  One should ask why GMO companies are striving so hard to keep from labeling.  Sign the petition and pass the word. 

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