Pandemic-Related Grocery Shopping May Omit Nutrition Information, Study Says

While grocery shopping online saves time, there’s something important missing on those handy apps.

By: Amanda Mushro
Crop anonymous person using mobile phone to buy groceries with smart application while checking fridge at home. Person buying food supplies with mobile app.

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Crop anonymous person using mobile phone to buy groceries with smart application while checking fridge at home. Person buying food supplies with mobile app.

Photo by: Dani Serrano

Dani Serrano

If it wasn’t something you did before, the pandemic made buying groceries online a regular occurrence for many Americans. It’s so easy to just open an app, click on the groceries you need, and either have them delivered to your home or placed in the trunk of your car later that day. Buying groceries online can save you time and the hassle of walking up and down the aisles and having to wait in lines to checkout. However, a new study finds that we may be trading in convenience for health.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that companies list information like serving sizes, calories, added sugars, allergens, ingredients, and other facts on all food labels. However, according to a new study, many labels for food that is being sold online do not contain this information. For consumers who are looking at labels for health benefits and allergens, this lack of information could cause problems.

Researchers looked at 10 major national packaged products across nine different online retailers at the start of 2021. What they found was there were no nutritional facts and ingredient lists for almost 11% of products. For the products that did contain the lists, 63% were missing info that lets consumers know the products contain common food allergens. So in addition to nutrition, missing labels could be dangerous for those who have food allergies.

"The pandemic changed everything for everyone," said Wendy White, an industry manager for food and beverage at Georgia Institute of Technology. One of the study's coauthors, Jennifer Pomeranz, said, "It really expedited the growth of (online) sales in a way no one could have anticipated, and so all of a sudden this became a forefront issue." Pomeranz is also the assistant professor of public health policy and management at New York University School of Global Public Health. "This is an excuse like any other, but I really do think with the pandemic a lot of retailers were caught unaware, and they really had to put together their online e-commerce platforms very, very quickly," she said.

While the FDA said they will be addressing the issue of missing nutrition labels online, researchers say this will take time and consumers need to be aware.

"The American consumer has become very used to being able to access this information very easily. They're used to going to the supermarket, picking up that can, looking at the label and understanding exactly what is in that product," White told CNN.

Since we aren’t looking to give up the convenience of our online shopping, what should consumers do? Buy products that you are familiar with and do a quick search online to see if you can find the nutrition label and ingredients list before trying new products. You can also help retailers speed up the process by letting the stores you shop at know you want labels on all products online. While this may take some time, it’s worth consumers taking the extra steps to ensure they know what they are buying.

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