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Explaining Labels

The labels appearing on products are becoming a growing source of controversy and confusion. Consumers want and need straight information on the nutritional content or environmental impact of products, and are relying on labels for some quick guidance. But the proliferation of labels and claims are leaving consumers more confused than ever.

Here at the Natural Products Food Expo, the issue of Eco-labels was taken on by an expert panel this morning. The panel agreed that there are a lot of labels purporting to vet the "green" or "natural" quality of a product, but consumers don't always understand them. One of the panelists, Sara Snow, host of the TV series "Get Fresh with Sara Snow" and "Living Fresh" for the Discovery Networks, pointed out the role retailers can play in educating consumers. Just having a point-of-purchase placard explaining what different labels mean can go a long way. "You'd be surprised by how excited consumers would be if retailers had that," she said.

Whole Foods is an example of a retailer that does a good job with this type of point-of-purchase information, noted another panelist, Trevor Bowden, co-founder of the Ecolabel Index, which is a directory of some 400 different ecolabels, with an explanation of what each means. For example, Whole Foods provides an explanation of what the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) logo means on fish. "That gives me all the information I need," he said.

Consumers want information -- and they are looking for retailers to provide it in simple and digestible ways.