Tesco’s green light to clear food labels

For many years I have been fighting for clear and honest labelling on the food we buy. Whilst negotiating EU food labelling laws I was calling for traffic light labelling to be used on all processed foods. Unfortunately, due to the heavy opposition from many food manufacturers and retailers, I wasn’t successful.

One of the most vocal opponents to traffic lights was Britain’s biggest supermarket, Tesco. So you might think I would have been surprised last week when Tesco announced they would introduce a colour coded labelling system to show whether a food contains high, medium or low amounts of fat, sugar and salt. While it is fantastic news, it is not entirely unexpected.

Supermarkets that have used traffic light schemes for years, including Sainsbury’s, the Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Waitrose and ASDA, have consistently found that shoppers like the labels, which allow them to immediately assess the nutritional quality of the food they are putting in their trolley. They can quickly see that one ready made lasagne has less fat than another, or that one sandwich contains more salt than another. And these supermarkets report that shoppers switch from products with more red and amber lights to healthier products with more green lights.

So it is not surprising that Tesco finally gave in to consumer pressure to have easy to understand information on their food; it is just a shame that it didn’t happen a few years earlier. With the weight of the retail sector now behind traffic lights it will be difficult for supermarkets and manufacturers which still use the confusing, time-consuming and sometimes misleading GDA system, or those providing little nutritional information at all, to resist much longer. Tesco have finally said that they are not scared to be upfront with their customers about what is in the food they are selling, and it is about time that others followed suit.

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