New labelling legislation in South Africa is expected to help consumers sustain a healthy lifestyle through the food choices they make. This study was undertaken to explore a sample of South African consumers' reasons for reading labels and the influence of food labels on their purchasing behaviour. The study was conducted using focus group discussions held with label reading consumers in Potchefstroom in the North West Province of South Africa. Findings suggested that these participants read food labels to assess the nutritional value, personal benefits, health attributes and product quality. Various purchasing influences were also identified, suggesting that consumers are in some cases motivated by food labels to purchase a product, or may be unresponsive to the label or indifferent by being aware of the information but not reluctant to buy a product that does not indicate essential information. Several indirect consideration factors such as situational factors (e.g. family), extrinsic (e.g. price) and intrinsic (e.g. taste) may contribute to the purchasing behaviour of some consumers. These findings are useful to propose a perceptual model of the way in which food labels influence purchasing behaviour of a sample of South African consumers and explain the role of food labels in the purchasing decision of label-reading consumers. This information is especially significant for new packaging and labelling initiatives as it highlights the reasons why label-reading South African consumers read label information.