Public Health Nutrition

HOT TOPIC – Food labelling

Effects of alternative label formats on choice of high- and low-sodium products in a New Zealand population sample

Rachael McLeana1 c1, Janet Hoeka2 and Duncan Hedderleya3

a1 Edgar National Centre for Diabetes & Obesity Research, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago, PO Box 913, Dunedin 9054, New Zealand

a2 Department Marketing, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand

a3 The New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research Ltd, Palmerston North, New Zealand


Objective Dietary sodium reduction is a cost-effective public health intervention to reduce chronic disease. In response to calls for further research into front-of-pack labelling systems, we examined how alternative sodium nutrition label formats and nutrition claims influenced consumers’ choice behaviour and whether consumers with or without a diagnosis of hypertension differed in their choice patterns.

Design An anonymous online experiment in which participants viewed ten choice sets featuring three fictitious brands of baked beans with varied label formats and nutritional profiles (high and low sodium) and indicated which brand in each set they would purchase if shopping for this product.

Setting Participants were recruited from New Zealand's largest online nationwide research panel.

Subjects Five hundred people with self-reported hypertension and 191 people without hypertension aged 18 to 79 years.

Results The addition of a front-of-pack label increased both groups’ ability to discriminate between products with high and low sodium, while the Traffic Light label enabled better identification of the high-sodium product. Both front-of-pack formats enhanced discrimination in the presence of a reduced salt claim, but the Traffic Light label also performed better than the Percentage Daily Intake label in moderating the effect of the claim for the high-sodium product.

Conclusions Front-of-pack labels, particularly those with simple visual cues, enhance consumers’ ability to discriminate between high- and low-sodium products, even when those products feature nutrition claims.

(Received July 26 2011)

(Accepted December 07 2011)

(Online publication January 27 2012)


c1 Corresponding author: Email