The industry finally saw the lights at the end of the labelling tunnel this week with the government’s launch on Wednesday of its new front-of-pack labelling scheme… not that manufacturers will necessarily see the colours they were expecting.
In a slightly bizarre twist, sugar thresholds are going to be higher under the new voluntary scheme than under current FSA guidelines (“an unintended consequence” of EU regulations, apparently). So sugary cereals that would have had red lights may now qualify for ‘healthier’ amber. Meanwhile, salt thresholds are lower, so thousands of products that would have had amber lights will be slapped with reds instead (read ready meals and sandwiches).
Far from ending the “bewilderment” experienced by consumers as the DH has suggested, isn’t this going to confuse them even further, especially with Guideline Daily Amounts making way for Reference Intakes (so much more catchy), the new colour-coding being largely based on 100g measures rather than portion sizes and - arguably the biggest problem - the number of companies shunning the new scheme in favour of their existing systems?
While all the major supermarkets have signed up, as have suppliers such as Mars, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Premier Foods, the likes of Mondelez and United Biscuits are sticking to their GDA guns, arguing in the latter’s case that 100g equates to seven digestives and that people want information based on what they’re actually eating (which unless you’re my father in law is not usually seven biscuits). It’s a fair point - and if they continue to stand their ground, it rather torpedoes any prospect of a consistent labelling system being used across UK food and drink. As does the fact that it’s a voluntary scheme. What’s to stop another voluntary scheme being launched? And another?
The new labels have already hit Asda and Waitrose shelves. Other retailers are poised to follow suit - and the BRC is confident plenty more suppliers will sign up too. Let’s hope they do - and that this gives consumers the right signals about diet rather than showing them the green light when it should be red.