Volume 36

Time to End the Chaos: A Call for Regulatory Reform on the Online Food Labeling System

by Yue Bai

It is a sunny day. You wake up and pick up your phone, planning to do some grocery shopping in preparation for the holiday season. You open Instacart, a mobile app that offers same-day grocery delivery to your door. You click on Chips Ahoy! Cookies. Just as you would in-store, you look for the nutrition facts labels and ingredient lists. Here you have two choices: one is to swipe over seven pictures to reach the nutrition facts and then click to zoom in to see the tiny words; the other is to scroll down over advertisements such as “picked for you,” “related items,” and “often bought with” to reach the nutrition facts along with a long description full of marketing language. You exit and then click on Clancy’s Butter Microwave Corn. There is no option to swipe or scroll. All you have is a single picture of the front package and nothing else. There is a tiny nutrition facts table in the lower-left corner, but it is too blurry to be seen clearly. You try to use a filter to access low-sodium products only to find that there is no such thing available. You have to rely on your own knowledge to pick the right things for your family.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed Americans’ way of living. Even before the pandemic, online purchases accounted for one-fifth of all expenditures on food, representing one dollar out of every five dollars spent. The limiting of in-person shopping and the issuance of stay-at-home orders further facilitated the switch from in-person to online grocery shopping. In August 2020, approximately twenty-nine percent of all US households were considered active users of online grocery shopping.6 It has been estimated that even as the pandemic ends, fifty- five percent of US consumers will pick up online grocery shopping by the end of 2024, and if the pandemic persists, the number will likely climb to sixty-six percent. Even though some shoppers may go back to in-person shopping after the pandemic, online grocery shopping will likely continue to have a profound impact on people’s lives.


Keep Reading

Subscribe to GJLE