Tesco leads food labelling rebellion with TV push

LONDON - Tesco, Coca-Cola and Cadbury Schweppes are leading UK FMCG companies in a new £4m food labelling campaign, which rivals that put in place by government watchdog the Food Standards Agency.

Following government pressure to correctly label food in order to stem the rise of obesity in the UK, the group, formed of 24 retailers and manufacturers, will launch a TV and print campaign. It will break on January 8 and is due to run for 18 months.

The ads are set to go head-to-head with the FSA voluntary traffic light labelling system, which consists of red, amber and green marking dependent on how good for the consumer the product is. Many retailers did not like and resented putting a red stop sign on food and drink high in fat, salt and sugar because they feared it would stigmatise some foods and badly damage sales.

However, the FSA believe the traffic light system is easier to understand and has been backed by major retailers such as Sainsbury, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and Asda. It is Tesco that has led plans for a rival labelling system using guideline daily amounts and has 4,000 products already planned for the GDA labelling campaign.

The new ads will promote a guideline daily allowance of sugar, salt and fat. Jane Holdsworth, GDA campaign director, said: "This isn't just about a label, it's about a lifestyle. We have made it simple to compare what's inside thousands of everyday foods so you can choose what best suits your diet."

Critics of the GDA system deem the nutritional information printed on the back too complicated for many shoppers to understand.

The FSA said: "Some consumers do like the extra information that GDAs provide. However, without a traffic light colour code our research showed that shoppers can't always interpret the information quickly and often find percentages difficult to understand and use. If traffic light colours were added to products with GDA labels this would reduce the confusion in the marketplace."  

Tesco has previously been criticised by consumer associations Which? for confusing shoppers by rejecting the traffic light system along with other major FMCG brands. Its research showed that Tesco's GDA colour code for processed food confused nearly two-thirds of consumers.

The survey of 636 people found that 86% understood the nutrient levels shown on Tesco labels compared with 97% for the FSA system. However, only 37% understood the use of colour on the supermarket's nutrient labels.

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