% DV, consumers could not interpret metric values correctly and made inaccurate judgments about individual products (Geiger, 2002; Levy et al., 1996).
Both FDA and the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) periodically track label use. FMI surveys indicate that in 1992, half of U.S. adult consumers said they used nutrition labeling when buying a food for the first time (FMI, 1993). The number rose to about 60 percent by 1995, and then dropped nearly to baseline (FMI, 1997). About half of consumers continue to report using nutrition labeling for first-time purchases (FMI, 2001). Estimates from the FDA Food Label Use and Nutrition Education Surveys (FLUNES) conducted in spring 1994 and fall 1995 indicated that about half of adult consumers reported using the food label to make a food product choice in the two weeks before the interview (Derby, 2002).
Data from FLUNES also showed that over 50 percent of consumers used the Nutrition Facts box to make a summary judgment of the overall nutritional quality of a food (Derby, 2002). The most notable increase in the way the new label was used was to determine how high or low a product was in a particular nutrient, especially fat (Derby, 2002). The percentage of consumers who checked fat information rose steadily from 1992 to a high of 83 percent in 1995 (Derby, 2002; FMI, 1992, 1995), but dropped back to 70 percent by 1997 (FMI, 1997). Overall, fat content was the factor that influenced purchase decisions in both directions, but the percentage of shoppers who identified fat as the factor that led them to choose a specific product declined (FMI, 1997).
The second most common use of the Nutrition Facts box was for information about the calorie content of food. In 1992, 51 percent of consumers said that they always or almost always checked calories (FMI, 1992). By 1997 however, that figure had dropped to 33 percent of label readers (FMI, 1997), but calories were still listed among the top three pieces of information sought by 80 percent of label readers.
Consumers use the Nutrition Facts box, and specifically the % DV, to confirm a claim on the front of a product and to make product-specific judgments (FDA, 1995; Geiger et al., 1991). In general consumers continue to report that they use nutrition labeling to make purchase decisions, more often to avoid, rather than to buy, a specific item (FMI, 1997).