Is the traffic light food labelling system working?

21st March 2014 - Fine Cut
Is the traffic light food labelling system working?

When consumers go food shopping, there are a wealth of signs, symbols, labels and logos all vying to tell them something about particular products.

One system that has been implemented in a bid to help shoppers to make better-informed choices about the foods they buy has been the traffic light labelling system, which shows consumers at a glance if a food has a high, medium or low content of fat, saturated fat, sugars and salt. 

The British Heart Foundation voiced its support for the programme, saying: "With an unhealthy diet being a key factor for obesity, traffic light labels provide a clear guide about the level of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in products that are highly processed, like ready meals."

However, new research by the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has suggested it is perhaps not as easy to understand as those behind the idea had thought it would be.

According to a survey of more than 2,000 UK consumers concerning their attitudes towards healthy eating, food labelling and brand trust, more than half of respondents thought that nutritional information on packaging was still hard for people to understand. 

The results of the investigations carried out in February and early March 2014 also revealed that a similar number of people admitted they might pay more attention to what's in their purchases if the information were easier to wrap their head around. Only nine per cent of participants said vital information was "easy" to understand.

Despite the fact that over three-quarters (76 per cent) believed they had a solid grasp of the traffic light system, the results suggested otherwise.

Over half (51 per cent) of individuals wrongly believed that if a product had mostly green lights on it and only one red, then it was still healthy. Meanwhile, 67 per cent stated that if a product had all red lights, this was an immediate indication that it must be outright bad for them and should therefore be avoided entirely - another false statement. 

As a result of the findings, it is being suggested that the focus moving forward should not be on more complex legislation and regulations, but rather on consumer education.

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