FSA on-pack nutritional guidance “confusing”

The Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) decision to approve the use of its traffic light-style front-of-pack nutritional labels is likely to cause confusion for both the industry and consumers.

The FSA has announced it plans to “encourage” food businesses to adopt its favoured red, amber and green traffic lights format, but says that this should be in combination with guideline daily amounts (GDAs) and text in relation to salt, saturated fat, fat and sugar content.

Health campaigners say the decision is a fudge, with the FSA leaving it up to the food industry to continue to pick and choose. This will lead to ongoing consumer confusion, according to the British Heart Foundation.

The FSA’s lack of a clear line has also bemused branding experts. Kate Waddell, head of consumer brands at Dragon Rouge, says the decision has left food manufacturers with “more places to hide”.

“It’s not quite clear what’s going on with the FSA,” she says. “Consumers largely ’get’ the idea of traffic lights, it isn’t going to help if the FSA continues to allow companies to freestyle.”

To date, retailers and food manufacturers have selected the front-of-pack label best suited to their customer base. With no mandatory enforcement behind the FSA’s decision, this will continue.

Some, like Waitrose, are using traffic lights alongside GDAs, while Tesco is using only GDAs. Introducing GDAs on its ready meals saw sales of a low-fat curry rise 33% while sales of a higher fat meal fell 26%.

The FSA plans to evaluate the impact of front-of-packet labelling, but progress is being hindered by European-level negotiations over nutrition labelling.

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