Strategies for CPGs to improve their labeling to alleviate consumer stress around allergens

By Sara Sprenger

5 min read

December 21, 2021

Sometimes grocery shopping can be a daunting task. Whether you hit traffic on the way or the store runs out of your favorite products, it’s not always an enjoyable experience. Throw in allergies, sensitive dietary needs, diabetics, and other special food needs and shopping for groceries can be a daunting task. Even more so, add confusing or misleading labels to the mix, and there is room for disaster or even a stressful experience. 

There are an estimated 85 million Americans who avoid at least one of the top nine food allergens, including 32 million with potentially life-threatening allergies, according to FARE. To make shopping easier, CPG brands, retailers and manufacturers have a responsibility to increase product transparency and provide resources that give consumers better access to products that meet their dietary needs.

The impact and stress of allergens on the everyday consumer

The top nine allergens are milk, egg, wheat, fish, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts, soy and sesame. 

Shoppers are looking for products that meet specific dietary, medical, allergen and value-based needs. Since the pandemic, a large majority of grocery shopping has moved online, and while most retailers recognize the significance of these shopping trends and have made moves to accommodate them, consumers are still finding inaccessible “digital stores” and empty “digital aisles,” according to Label Insight.

Not being able to find products that meet allergen needs causes undue stress on shoppers and their families. And while the product they’re looking for may be available in-store, website navigation and search functionality issues aren’t bringing the right products up online.

A few quick stats:

  • The number of food-allergic children has doubled since 1997, outpacing population growth
  • Since 1997, the number of children with peanut allergies has tripled
  • The prevalence of food allergies is higher in U.S. adults vs. children, and as the prevalence in children has increased, so too has the prevalence in adults
  • Emergency department visits for food-induced anaphylaxis has more than tripled in the last 10 years

The impact and stress of allergens on the everyday consumer

Shoppers want to better understand if a product aligns with their needs as they shop online and in-store, which is why product labeling and accurate product content matter. Retailers also need to implement robust attribute-based search filtering online to help them find what they’re looking for. 

FARE’s consumer research shows that 53% of customers want clearer and consistent food allergen labeling, and 71% of shoppers check food labels every time they shop, sometimes spending as long as 3 to 5 minutes with each label. This can add up to a lot of time spent in-store or online for shoppers who cannot find the product attributes they’re looking for.

How CPGs can improve their product data and labeling 

When consumers can’t find specific product attributes, they’re apt to switch to a brand’s competitor with better labeling. The numbers don’t lie: 60% of shoppers with food allergies and intolerances have switched to a competitor brand because it had more robust and trustworthy information about product attributes. 

The number of food-allergic consumers has risen 4% each year over the last 20 years, which represents a large marketing opportunity for CPGs. Here are a few ways CPGs can improve their product data and labeling for those managing food allergies or food intolerances to gain consumer trust and loyalty.

  • Guarantee products are safe, tasty and affordable
  • Tell your story and lay out a transparent plan for how you intend to meet your consumers’ needs and keep them safe 
  • Place Precautionary Allergen Labeling (PAL) on the front of the package as well as near the ingredient list
  • Include a clear PAL statement: “Not suitable for those with ____ allergy.”
  • List a specific allergen rather than a grouping (For example: May contain hazelnut vs. May contain tree nuts.)
  • Use visual icons to represent allergens

Better labeling will lead to consumers trying more of your products if they already know they can trust your brand and ingredients. Retailers who access attribute data that is relevant to their products and implement advanced, attribute-based search filtering will increase revenue, generate greater customer loyalty, and have an opening to gain a competitive advantage over retailers who aren’t taking action.