In a statement Mars said the so called Evolved Nutritional Labelling (ENL) scheme had failed to gain enough widespread support

Mars has quit the group of major companies pressing for a breakaway front-of-pack labelling system, claiming it “lacked credibility”.

The confectionery giant was among companies - also including Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever - that launched plans in June last year.

They have pressed for a Europe-wide uptake of a traffic lights-style front-of-pack labelling system, like that used in the UK.

However, its campaign also argued for changes to the UK system, which would take into account portion sizes. This would have seen the labels for a raft of products such as biscuits and confectionery turn from red to amber.

The moves have been condemned by the health lobby as an attempt to make their products appear healthier than they are, and have been opposed by the Department of Health in the UK.

In a statement Mars said the so called Evolved Nutritional Labelling (ENL) scheme had failed to gain enough widespread support, especially the controversial portion size element.

“After a year of intense engagement with stakeholders, we have come to the conclusion that whilst there is support for a pan-European approach and to a lesser degree for interpretative nutrition labelling, the ‘per portion’ solution explored by ENL does not currently enjoy the credibility and required broad level of consensus among stakeholders to make it a viable option at this point,” said a spokesman. “We have therefore chosen to cease active participation in the Evolved Nutrition Labelling initiative.”

He added: “Our strong belief remains that transparent nutrition labelling, supported by a broad consensus among stakeholders, helps consumers to make informed choices for them and their families.

“To this end, we will continue to engage and lead in advocating for an EU-wide, interpretative approach to nutrition labelling. We need a pan-European solution, for all EU consumers to benefit from it and to reduce complexity and cost to businesses.”

In a joint statement, the remaining five ENL signatories said they would continue to push ahead with the scheme.

It said: “Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo, The Coca-Cola Company, and Unilever firmly believe that ENL represents an important contribution towards identifying a European solution for nutrition labelling. We are also encouraged by recent constructive feedback from our stakeholder engagement.

“Through ENL, our aim has always been to address the needs of our consumers, who want simple, easy-to-understand and meaningful nutrition labelling including realistic portion size information. For this reason, we continue our EU and national consultations, while we reiterate our call for the European Commission to define standard portion sizes.”