Online Food Shopping - More Nutrition Information Needed
By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor
While shopping for groceries online has become an important convenience for many individuals and families, for those with food allergies or medical dietary restrictions, some of the current systems may be a cause for concern. From a lack of nutrition information to incorrectly selected product substitutions, shopping online could be risky.
An analysis published in January in Public Health Nutrition by researchers from the NYU School of Global Public Health and the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Massachusetts reported that online food retailers are not consistently displaying nutrition information on their websites.
Their study found that U.S. laws are not in place to mandate that the same labeling required for foods in store be provided online. In fact, of the grocery products surveyed, labeling information appeared only on about a third of online products. With online grocery shopping continuing to rise and predicted to be at 21 percent of the total market by 2025, enforced regulations need to be in place to help ensure safe and healthy foods are provided to consumers.
Until such laws are in place and mandated, there are some ways that retail dietitians can help make sure shoppers are getting the products they need, especially if they are following a diet with limitations.
Begin by reviewing your store’s protocol for dealing with product substitutions. Make sure there is a question related to any food allergies or special needs and make sure those customers only receive approved substitutions. It’s also important that online customers know they also need to be accountable for checking the label of food products they receive.
If your store provides an online shopping filter, communicate the availability of that service often along with clear directions on how to use it. You may also want to consider offering the opportunity for live chats with a dietitian to provide product guidance. Providing specific shopping lists and recipes for customers following restricted diets and flagging new products online that meet the needs of allergen free shoppers would also be welcome.
Most importantly, work with your ecommerce team to help them understand the urgency of ensuring your online system looks like an in-store experience with clear product images, ingredient information and nutrition facts panels. By working closely with internal teams, your expertise can help ensure all online customers find the products they need to meet their personalized dietary needs.