Changing the labels on food products could be more than three times costlier than previously estimated, according to new Defra-commissioned research.

A large-scale study into the costs associated with label changes, carried out for Defra by food and drink research firm Campden BRI, suggests a single label change costs on average £3,260 per SKU rather than the £1,000 per SKU typically quoted in previous research.

The findings come as wide-ranging food label changes including country-of-origin labelling and nutritional information are being debated in both Brussels and the UK.

According to Campden BRI, the cost of changing labels on individual products varied widely depending on what changes were made, the labelling technology used and whether the products had a long or short shelf life.

Campden BRI said one reason the average cost was higher than previously estimated was because it looked at the 'real' costs of label changes. For example, new country-of-origin labelling was more complex than the "apparently straightforward cost of adding a line of text", it said, particularly where a number of different ingredients had to be traced and labelled.

Defra's research aims to develop an evidence-based framework to assess the costs of labelling changes. It said the sample used in the research was small 12% of the 664 businesses approached completed the questionnaire but the study had given an "indicative cost" that it would use to inform future discussions with stakeholders.