Food Labelling – Is It Really Working?

Sure, it’s good to see more suppliers supporting the government’s attempts to improve food labelling (‘Hybrid labelling scheme wins over second wave of suppliers,’ 19 April, p5). However, I think it’s a bit early to hail the system a success. As I found out as one of the architects of the GDA system, food labelling has long been contentious in the UK and many systems have been tried, mostly without much success.

Last June, the government announced the new traffic-light scheme, responding to calls for a standardised system, easy for all to understand at a glance. Many health professionals were optimistic about the new labelling system, but as was perhaps predictable, it doesn’t appear to have lived up to expectations.

Despite 76% of consumers claiming to understand the traffic-light system, in a survey most respondents answered four out of five questions incorrectly! Clearly more needs to be done to educate consumers on how the system works, or even, dare I say, the system needs to be redesigned again. But whose responsibility should it be to clarify such information?

Many believe that the government, brand owners and retailers should do more to promote healthier lifestyles in general. Brand owners appear to be responding, with 57% of food and drink marketers planning to increase investment in consumer education over the next 12 months, and 84% planning to educate consumers via on-pack information. But it is still unclear to me how marketers will be able to get this message across effectively.

Having worked in FMCG for over 20 years now and having seen numerous iterations of labelling, I am tempted to say ‘plus ca change’.

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