Public Health Nutrition

Research Paper

Nutrition labels: a survey of use, understanding and preferences among ethnically diverse shoppers in New Zealand

Delvina Gortona1 c1, Cliona Ni Mhurchua1, Mei-hua Chena1 and Robyn Dixona2

a1 Clinical Trials Research Unit, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Auckland Mail Centre, New Zealand

a2 Centre for Child and Family Policy Research, University of Auckland, New Zealand


Objective Effective nutrition labels are part of a supportive environment that encourages healthier food choices. The present study examined the use, understanding and preferences regarding nutrition labels among ethnically diverse shoppers in New Zealand.

Design and setting A survey was carried out at twenty-five supermarkets in Auckland, New Zealand, between February and April 2007. Recruitment was stratified by ethnicity. Questions assessed nutrition label use, understanding of the mandatory Nutrition Information Panel (NIP), and preference for and understanding of four nutrition label formats: multiple traffic light (MTL), simple traffic light (STL), NIP and percentage of daily intake (%DI).

Subjects In total 1525 shoppers completed the survey: 401 Maori, 347 Pacific, 372 Asian and 395 New Zealand European and Other ethnicities (ten did not state ethnicity).

Results Reported use of nutrition labels (always, regularly, sometimes) ranged from 66 % to 87 % by ethnicity. There was little difference in ability to obtain information from the NIP according to ethnicity or income. However, there were marked ethnic differences in ability to use the NIP to determine if a food was healthy, with lesser differences by income. Of the four label formats tested, STL and MTL labels were best understood across all ethnic and income groups, and MTL labels were most frequently preferred.

Conclusions There are clear ethnic and income disparities in ability to use the current mandatory food labels in New Zealand (NIP) to determine if foods are healthy. Conversely, MTL and STL label formats demonstrated high levels of understanding and acceptance across ethnic and income groups.

(Received November 20 2007)

(Accepted October 02 2008)


c1 Corresponding author: Email