Consumers are in favour of a simple signposting system to help them select healthier food, according to research just released by the Food Standards Agency (FSA).

The FSA has tested five different signposting options with consumers, and it now plans to work with the food industry to test out all options in shops during the summer of 2005.

Three of the five options tested combined the main nutrients into a single measure. These were:

* ‘Simple Traffic Light’, where foods might be depicted as red, amber or green

* ‘Extended Traffic Light’, whereby labels would indicate red, red/amber, amber, amber/green or green

* A symbol appearing only on the healthier options

The other two options showed separate key nutrient information for the total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. These were:

* ‘Multiple Traffic Light’, which might be depicted as separate traffic lights for high, medium or low levels for each of the key nutrients

* Guideline Daily Amounts for men and women and the amounts of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar per portion

The two signposts which were clearly preferred by consumers were: the ‘Simple Traffic Light’ and the ‘Multiple Traffic Light’ schemes, according to the FSA report.

The Agency has also said it has commissioned research to develop a scheme to categorise foods on the basis of the key nutrients they contain, which it says could underpin some of the signposting options.

In its Public Health White Paper last week, the government said it intends to work with the food industry to develop a signposting approach, in order to have a “clear straightforward coding system in common use.”

For further details on the FSA's research see this week’s issue of The Grocer dated November 27.