CHICAGO — How the new Nutrition Facts Panel affects consumers’ purchase intent based on sugar content may not be “statistically significant,” according to a Corbion proprietary labeling study performed in 2017. The situation could change, however, through increasing media and social media emphasis on sugar.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last September proposed to extend the compliance dates for the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts label final rule. Under the proposal, manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales would have until Jan. 1, 2020, to come into compliance, an extension from July 26, 2018. In one change, the new Nutrition Facts Panel will include a line for added sugars, which is not on the current panel.

Marge O’Brien, senior manager, global insights for Corbion, gave details on the company’s study Feb. 26 at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech 2018 in Chicago. The company talked to 800 U.S. consumers and divided them into two groups. People in the low-intent group were less likely to read product labels. People in the some-intent group ranged from being more likely to read labels to being “extremely passionate” about reading labels.

First, people were shown the current Nutrition Facts Panel and not given any aid on what to look for in the panel. Among the low-intent group, 13% said sugar content would influence their purchase decision. Among the some-intent group, 19% said sugar content would have an influence. Then, both groups were shown the upcoming Nutrition Facts Panel. The percentages increased to 20% for the low-intent group and 25% for the some-intent group.

“The key is, for both sets of numbers it is not statistically significant,” Ms. O’Brien said. “So there is not a massive change on an unaided basis for consumers from the old label to the new label.”

The landscape could change, however, if sugar discussion continues to increase in the media and social media, she said.

The beauty pageant answer

The Corbion study also placed the current Nutrition Facts Panel and the upcoming one side by side and aided the consumers, meaning Corbion told them to examine the sugar lines. This time, 54% of the consumers in the low-intent group and 75% in the some-intent group said sugar content would influence their purchase decision.

“Once you tell consumers what you’re looking at and put it in front of them to evaluate, they respond,” Ms. O’Brien said.

She added the rising percentages could be an example of people saying they would do something but not actually doing it at the store.

“A lot of people are giving what I would call the beauty pageant answer: ‘Well, yes, absolutely it matters, and I would never purchase anything like that,’” Ms. O’Brien said. “It’s just not reality.”

In sweet baked foods, calories and sugar were the top two elements in the Nutrition Facts Panel that people viewed, she said. The Corbion study found 33% of consumers were aware the F.D.A. was changing the Nutrition Facts Panel. The new Nutrition Facts Panel was more likely to influence purchase content in other categories such as yogurt, cereal, canned soup, soft drinks and ice cream, Ms. O’Brien said.

“Whether you’re a label reader or a non-label reader, the overall impact and influence of those labels on sweet baked goods is always toward the bottom,” she said. “People are like, ‘If I want a cupcake, I’m going to eat a cupcake, and I don’t care.’”

Views on sugar substitutes

The category also may affect how consumers view sugar substitutes. The Corbion study found 42% of consumers have a negative perception about sugar substitutes in sweet baked foods. The percentage rises to 53% for bread. When asked what products with sugar substitutes they would be more likely to buy, the top four answers were products with natural sugar substitutes: honey, agave nectar, stevia and monk fruit.

“Consumers are more accepting if they‘re familiar with it,” Ms. O’Brien said.

When asked how sugar reduction might affect taste, consumers tended to say when sugar reduction reaches 20%, it might affect taste.

“Consumers are kind of framing up for us the amount of sugar reduction they’d be open to,” Ms. O’Brien said.