Water fountain_one use

The scoring system will be based on research IGD has commissioned on metrics including the impact on climate change, land use, water use and water quality

Four leading supermarkets are set to launch a prototype of the industry’s first harmonised front-of-pack environmental label, in what has been billed as a major step forward in transparency over the impact of products.

Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco will pilot the new label over the summer, with plans for a wider industry rollout as early as next year.

Although the exact format of the label is still being finalised, The Grocer understands it will combine an eco-scoring system with colour-coded elements like the front-of-pack health labelling already used by many retailers and suppliers.

IGD is spearheading the move, backed by Defra and Wrap. It said the move was vital to prevent confusion among consumers baffled by the emergence of competing eco-labels in recent months, and to establish an accepted system of measuring environmental impact.

The first public tests of the new label are set to be carried out using separate panels of shoppers from each of the four retailers. They will use virtual reality technology to carry out virtual shopping exercises, which will be set up to find out the impact of the new system on sales.

Experts from the supermarkets have come up with six rival designs, with one to be chosen in the next few weeks. It is understood the new system is aimed at being front-of-pack, with the UK free to adopt its own labelling system after Brexit.

The scoring system will be based on research IGD has commissioned on metrics including the impact on climate change, land use, water use and water quality.

IGD said it was vital to enable consumers to make more informed choices at point of sale, based on credible data and consistent methods for environmental footprinting.

The body is also stressing the need for a harmonised system, with the emergence of rival environmental labeling schemes sparking fears of mass consumer confusion.

The first modern-day environmental labelling system, Eco-Score, was launched in January last year by a French collective.

In June last year, companies including Nestlé , M&S, the Co-op and Sainsbury’s were involved in the launch of Foundation Earth, an alternative front-of-pack eco-scoring system measuring carbon emissions, water usage and impact on biodiversity loss.

It has since signed up suppliers including the likes of Cranswick, Finnebrogue Artisan, Mash Direct, Mighty, White’s Oats and Natco.

A Foundation Earth spokesman said: “We are delighted that Foundation Earth has helped to create the current traction behind the environment labelling agenda. We also welcome IGD’s adoption of many of our key principles.

“We remain open to working and collaborating with the IGD to deliver an optimum harmonised system, as we have no doubt our two organisations could work much more effectively together on this project as all stakeholders seek a harmonised approach and to avoid proliferation.”

As well as the frour supermarkets, IGD said it was working with M&S as well as leading suppliers Greencore, Nestlé and 2 Sisters Food Group, alongside technical consultants Anthesis.

Its label is being scientifically evaluated by the World Resources Institute ahead of in-store execution. 

IGD said it was aware of other environmental labelling schemes and had consulted with a number of them but that it was intent on developing a harmonised approach.

“We recognise there is a growing appetite from all parts of the food system to measure and communicate the environmental impact of individual products, to drive positive change in consumption habits,” said IGD CEO Susan Barratt.

“We also know there is a real desire for collaboration, to champion a science-based approach to environmental labelling supported by robust consumer insights,” she added. “We have been working in close partnership with senior industry representatives, NGOs and technical experts over the last few months to develop an environmental labelling framework. Seeing this workstream now move into the trial phase is an exciting next step.”