Which? survey reveals consumer confusion over serving sizes

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Wednesday, 02 August 2023

A new survey by Which? has revealed that consumers are confused by serving suggestions on popular foods. 

The consumer group found that people need more clarity to understand how healthy the food products they are eating are, especially in cases where buyers feel that the recommended portion size is unrealistic. In a survey of more than 1,250 people, a third estimated that a tube of Pringles (185g) contains 3-4 portions. The packaging states that there are 6-7 servings per tube, which equates to 13 crisps each. Quality Street offers information based on a serving of two sweets per person. Which? representatives suggested that unrealistic guidelines were making it more difficult for consumers to make well-informed choices. 

Shefalee Loth, a nutritionist at Which? said that labelling is incredibly valuable and useful for consumers, but it should be based on realistic, consistent serving sizes. She added that the way some manufacturers are labelling products makes it challenging for buyers to evaluate how healthy the foods they are buying really are. 

The majority of subscribers surveyed by Which? felt that meal deals available in supermarkets were a suitable size for one person, despite the drink and snack elements often being recommended for two people. Most people felt that recommendations for cheese were also confusing, with many guessing that a standard 225g pack of halloumi would serve 2-4 people rather than up to 7 people as recommended by the manufacturer. Which? researchers also discovered that snacks and foods like chocolate and sweets, which were available in different sized packs, had inconsistent serving sizes across the range.

A representative from the Food and Drink Federation said that varying serving suggestions across a range of products catered to different families and provided guidance for consumers looking to follow a balanced diet. They added that manufacturers are committed to providing reliable and accurate information to help buyers to make decisions, including voluntary traffic light stickers and stamps on food products. 

In most cases, nutritional guidelines contain information for individual products, packs and servings, as well as an 100g serving, which is recommended by the government. Researchers found that most people surveyed overestimated serving sizes. A group of consumers was asked to pour a glass of wine or orange juice and then measure the serving size. Around 50% of those who poured themselves a glass of wine exceeded the recommended serving size for a small glass of wine (125ml) and 54% of those who chose orange juice exceeded the recommended daily intake of 150ml. In light of the findings of the poll, Which? has called for clearer labelling and the use of realistic serving suggestions on food products. Researchers believe that providing information based on examples, such as 2 sweets per person or 13 crisps each, can lead people to think that they are consuming less sugar or salt than they are. The consumer group has also called for better consistency across ranges of products that contain different pack sizes, such as multipacks, treat-size products, individual bags and large sharing bags of crisps.