The effect of ‘Traffic-Light’ nutritional labelling in carbonated soft drink purchases in Ecuador

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Overweight and obesity have become global concerns in developed and developing countries due to their rise in recent years and their association with the prevalence of non-communicable diseases including diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. In fact, it is estimated that roughly 39% of adults worldwide are overweight and 13% are obese. Ecuador is an example of a developing country concerned with the overweight and obesity problem, where it is estimated that 30% of children, 26% of teenagers and 63% of adults are either overweight or obese and where 1 in 4 deaths are attributed to chronic diseases. To address the overweight and obesity problem via the promotion of healthy eating habits, in 2013 the country approved technical regulation for the labelling of packed processed food products. The regulation included a mandatory traffic-light (TL) supplemental nutritional information labelling system to be displayed on the package of all processed foods for sale in the country. This new labelling system displays a traffic light panel for the product content of sugar, fat and salt in addition to the traditional nutrient declaration label. The objective of this paper was to evaluate the effect of the TL supplemental nutritional information on consumers’ buying behavior in Ecuador. More specifically, we concentrated on the purchasing behavior of carbonated soft drinks. For our analysis, we used monthly aggregated purchase data (total expenditures, quantities and average prices) of carbonated soft drinks from January 2013 to December 2015 obtained from Kantar World Panel—Ecuador. We estimated a non-linear Almost Ideal Demand System where we model the demand for high sugar and low sugar carbonated soft drinks. We found that the introduction of the traffic light supplemental nutrition labelling did not have the expected effect of reducing purchases of carbonated soft drinks during its first year of implementation, especially those high in sugar. Additionally, we found that lower income-status households tend to spend more on and consume more calories from CSD than households with higher socio-economic status. Finally, we identified that over time purchases of high sugar soft drinks decreased while purchases of low and no sugar soft drinks increased. Beyond our contribution of evaluating the effect of the traffic light on the purchases of carbonated soft drinks, we also estimated price and income elasticities of carbonated soft drinks which can be useful in the evaluation of fiscal policies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0222866
JournalPloS one
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019


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