>>Food and health is a political, not a competitive, issue


When the Food Standards Agency published details of its multiple traffic light labelling scheme last November, you may recall that I warned the FSA and government that industry would be right to stick two fingers up to such a flawed concept. At the same time, I urged retailers and manufacturers to put aside their commercial differences and unite behind a common labelling scheme that would actually be useful for consumers.
So well done Danone, Nestlé, Kellogg, Kraft, PepsiCo, and Unilever for seizing the initiative and launching front-of-pack GDA labelling. Their work comes on the back of the Be Treatwise project unveiled last week by Cadbury and Masterfoods (and bravo Nestlé for going a step further than even that duo when it comes to confectionery). Getting such fierce rivals to agree on anything, never mind such a massive piece of work as GDAs, is a fantastic result, particularly as it chimes with the labelling pioneered by Tesco. In theory, it all means that a huge chunk of the market will soon be using the same sort of labelling and in a format that research shows consumers like and understand.
More suppliers should now follow the lead of these eight companies so that the industry can present a truly united front on this issue. If you do that, you will help hammer the last nail in the coffin of traffic light labelling; you will be able to stick two fingers up to government on this issue; and, sweetest of all, you will be able to stick two fingers in the eyes of those pressure groups that circle this industry like so many nasty, yapping little dogs.
My only concern is that other retailers are not exactly rushing to embrace the GDA approach - for obvious reasons. Health, as we have said time and again, has become a huge competitive issue. And nobody is more competitive than a food retailer. But if suppliers can get beyond that, can’t retailers do the same? Shouldn’t we strive for a consensus on labelling? One that is driven by industry, not politicians with hidden agendas?
I don’t believe retailers or suppliers can look at the food and health debate as a competitive issue any more. From where I sit, it is very much a political issue. And you ignore that fact at your peril. The best way - nay, the only way - to respond is to jointly find solutions that work best for consumers rather than do things that work best for individual businesses.
take politics out of labels