Rethink the food label

The FDA is looking for constructive ideas to revamp food labeling and update the way ingredient and nutritional information is presented to the consumer.

I have three thoughts.
1. It’s about time!
2. You can still have an impact!
3. It might be too late!

Let me explain. First, the “its about time thing” is self explanatory. Everyone agrees that the existing nutrition facts box is a relic of the 1970s, and needs updating.

Second, you can have an impact, and right now, by voting for your favorite solution in the fascinating “Rethink The Food Label” program, where there is some very interesting work being done to reimagine the decades old nutrition facts box on all food products. The winners all seem richer and more informative than the existing box. As they say on the site,

“Rethink the Food Label is a project by the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism’s News21 program and Good Magazine. We asked the public, food thinkers, nutritionists, and designers to redesign the Nutrition Facts Label to make it easier to read and more useful to people who want to consume healthier, more nutritious and wholesome food.

Designs could incorporate the nutrition label’s existing break down of fats, sugars, vitamins, calorie counts and percent daily values. Or, they could re-imagine the label to include geography, food quality, food justice, carbon footprint, or lesser-known chemosensory characteristics.

Above all, we asked for designs that were informative, instructive and memorable.”

Third, as I speculated in a recent post, all of this well-meaning thought on consumer interests and behavior and how to apply it to a package, may be too late. We are entering an increasingly connected world, with mobile devices at retail beginning to act as the authoritative place for information for most people. As mentioned in my previous post, two statistics from a Microsoft/IRI survey support this trend,
• 78% of smart phone users use their phone when they shop
• 73% of consumers prefer using their mobile device at retail for product information rather than relying on a salesperson for advice

In this newly connected world the package will remain 
an important vehicle for information, but shouldn’t we be spending just as much time imagining how to present rich and reliable information to consumers on mobile platforms.

Here is a link to a great piece in today’s NY Times about the UC Berkeley program.

And here is a link to a discussion on Fast Company design site.


About Richard Shear

designer, husband, teacher, blogger, father, athlete, author, historian Richard has over 25 years of brand identity and package design experience, with a wide range of clients such as Ahold, Coca-Cola, Hasbro, IBM, Johnson & Johnson, Pernod Ricard and Procter & Gamble. He began his career working with the legendary advertising art director, and AIGA Medalist, George Lois and the British design manager Clive Chajet. In his next design management position at Lippincott & Margulies, he worked with Walter Margulies learning the complex skills of global corporate identity. He then became Creative Director and Partner at Peterson & Blyth, one of the premier brand identity and package design firms of the time. He is a founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding Program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He publishes the blog The Package Unseen, and has been a guest lecturer at colleges including FIT, Trinity College and Tyler School of Art. He is a graduate of the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. Richard is a Board member of the AIGA MetroNorth Chapter, past President of AIGA‘s Brand Design Association, President of the Package Design Council and a member of its Board of Directors. He is a member of USA Cycling and US Rowing, a nationally ranked masters bicycle racer, and a member of The Saugatuck Rowing Club, the 2010 Masters Club National Champion.
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