Abstract Background This study used focus groups to pilot and evaluate a new nutrition label format and refine the label design. Physical activity equivalent labels present calorie information in terms of the amount of physical activity that would be required to expend the calories in a specified food item. Methods Three focus groups with a total of twenty participants discussed food choices and nutrition labeling. They provided information on comprehension, usability and acceptability of the label. A systematic coding process was used to apply descriptive codes to the data and to identify emerging themes and attitudes. Results Participants in all three groups were able to comprehend the label format. Discussion about label format focused on issues including gender of the depicted figure, physical fitness of the figure, preference for walking or running labels, and preference for information in miles or minutes. Feedback from earlier focus groups was used to refine the labels in an iterative process. Conclusions In contrast to calorie labels, participants shown physical activity labels asked and answered, “How does this label apply to me?” This shift toward personalized understanding may indicate that physical activity labels offer an advantage over currently available nutrition labels.