Recent developments over front-of-pack nutrition labelling have been incredible. A flurry of supermarket activity over the last few weeks finally prompted a government announcement to introduce a consistent UK scheme that includes traffic light colour coding of nutrient levels, percentage Guideline Daily Amounts and high, medium and low text.
With Iceland’s commitment to the new scheme, it means every major supermarket has now committed to traffic light colour coding. Tesco’s u-turn, following new consumer research, kickstarted a wave of commitments from Lidl, Aldi, Morrisons. Sainsbury’s also announced it would change its approach and include percentage GDAs along with traffic lights.
Which?’s research has long shown that traffic lights work best. Supermarkets who have been using them for some time also report positive feedback. Traffic lights have also helped to drive reformulation of recipes and a wider choice of healthier options. The independent evaluation commissioned by the FSA showed that the optimum scheme is the one now supported by the government, which includes all three elements. This should therefore be the aim and is already being used by Asda, The Co-operative and McCain. Meanwhile, a shift towards traffic lights and percentage GDA across the board would be a big step forward for consumer choice.
” The same criteria need to be used by all retailers and manufacturers”
The focus now has to be on the lack of action by food manufacturers. Consistency is crucial for consumers shopping in a hurry. But apart from McCain, no major food manufacturer has so far said it will use the scheme. This is clearly unsustainable. As consumers begin to see and use traffic lights on own-brand products across all the supermarkets, they will expect to see similar transparency about fat, sat fat, sugar and salt levels on the branded products sitting next to them.
But it is also vital that in encouraging wider adoption of traffic lights, the very basis of the scheme is not undermined. The same criteria need to be used by all retailers and manufacturers for consumers to trust the labels. The existing FSA guidance has been used for some time by those already using traffic lights and works well. While some issues of clarification may be needed about application of the scheme to a wider range of foods, these criteria must remain the basis of the front of pack scheme.
The government now needs to show some leadership. The positive steps taken over the last few years by retailers who were willing to adopt the traffic light system early on must not be sacrificed to ensure wider take-up. We have an amazing opportunity to ensure clear, straightforward nutrition labelling across all foods in the UK.