Standardized Labels for Food Allergens
Current food labeling systems are failing to meet the needs of food allergic consumers or those with dietary restrictions. Main pain points include the label appearance for readability, visibility, consistency, and quick identification. A standardized food labeling system is critically important for the protection of food-allergic consumers and individuals with diet restrictions.
I have created an iconography system for primary food allergens. This system should be used for all food products, as it indicates when a product is allergen friendly (gluten-free, nut-free, etc.) as well as when a product is not allergen friendly. (ex. contains dairy, meat, etc.) This helps individuals 1. know exactly where to look on food packaging for allergen information every time, on every packaged food item and 2. quickly identify if a food product fits their allergen needs, without the need to flip over the packaged item in search of an ingredient list.
For individuals living with a diet restriction, it can be exceedingly difficult and frustrating to determine which food products can safely be consumed. With little consistency from brand to brand, or one food product to another, individuals find themselves scouring food packaging to find an indication of whether or not the food item in question is safely consumable.
From the initial survey I conducted, which questioned over 55 individuals I was able to examine the general frustrations individuals had with Packaged Food Products. 74.6% of respondents had one or more frustrations with current food packaging protocol in regards to allergen information. And 66% of respondents feel that food products have sneaky or hidden allergen contents. With that being said, 80% of respondents expressed an appreciation for interactions with clear allergen indications or certifications – many stating they would like to see a standardized, certified label on the front of all packaged food products.
In a follow up study, featuring 13 participants, only 1 individual reported feeling “extremely satisfied” after their most recent grocery shopping trip, 2 individuals reported feeling either “somewhat dissatisfied” or “extremely dissatisfied.” And 10 reported feeling only “somewhat satisfied.”
And When asked how difficult it is to grocery shop with their allergens or dietary restrictions in mind…75% of participants responded it is “only easy because I am trained what to look for, but may be more difficult for somebody else shopping for this allergy or dietary restriction.”
75% of participants also reported “picking up an item, thinking (they) may be able to purchase it, only to realize after further inspection that the food item did not follow (their) diet protocol.” Of these individuals, 66.66% reported feeling disappointed or irritated at this phenomenon.
My research helped me determine a clear need for a FUNCTIONAL and STANDARDIZED iconography system for food packaging which aims to minimize the work done by a person seeking information, so I implemented one last research strategy, in order to gather information regarding what made a successful and easy-to-use allergen icon. It became clear to me that the most important aspect of these icons would be: #1: a simple design #2: a successful text element and #3 a token-like design. As for the illustrative element, I came to understand this had to be very simple.
My designs, which feature simple illustrations and a comprehensible text-based element, distinguish not only when a product is allergen-free, but also when a product is not allergen friendly.Rather than expecting audiences who are not considered “the norm” to go out of their way to gain the help or information they need, this design system would be more inclusive of those with allergens and diet restrictions and benefit the general population, too.
Ideally, this iconography system would be implemented on every packaged food item within U.S grocery stores, in the upper right hand corner, as pictured. The “Allergen Free” and “Allergen Warning” icons are easily interchangeable, allowing for Manufacturers to display the correct icon for each individual food item they sell. This way, shoppers can quickly identity which products they can safely purchase and consume, according to the needs of four top allergen and diet restrictions.