Tesco labels confuse shoppersFood giant's labels criticised in Which? research

10 July 2006

Tesco’s  decision to use its own 'healthy' food labelling system has confused shoppers, Which? research has found.

The supermarket giant has rejected the Food Standards Agency’s (FSA) traffic light labelling system and has instead opted for its own labels which shoppers find more difficult to interpret.

Which?'s survey of 636 people found that 86 per cent could understand and compare nutrient levels shown on Tesco labels compared to 97 per cent for the FSA system.

And the colour coding on Tesco's nutrient labels was only understood by 37 per cent.

The difference in understanding was further highlighted by the fact that when respondents were asked to compare different labelling schemes, more found the FSA system easy to understand at a glance compared to the current Tesco system.

Consistent scheme

Which?'s Chief Policy Advisor Sue Davies said: 'It is confusing for consumers if our supermarket shelves are full of different, contrasting food labels. Our research shows that a consistent traffic light labelling system across all manufacturers and retailers will allow consumers to make informed and healthy decisions on food whichever supermarket they visit or brand they buy.'

Which? supports the FSA's system which uses red, amber and green colours to indicate high, medium and low levels of fat, sugar and salt.

Unilever, Danone, Nestle, Kellogg's, PepsiCo, Kraft, Coca-Cola and Britvic have also abandoned the FSA's traffic light scheme in favour of labels which show guideline daily amounts (GDAs) of key nutrients – the system used by Tesco.

Meanwhile Waitrose, Asda, Sainsbury's and the Co-op have backed the traffic light scheme.

Sue Davies said: 'It's unfortunate that several manufacturers intend to use the Tesco scheme despite its poorer performance. We are calling on all retailers and manufacturers to use the FSA multiple traffic light scheme on the front of their packaging so that customers are able to easily identify which products are the most healthy.’

Poorer performance

A Tesco spokesman said: ‘While we understand that traffic lights may give a simpler initial impression, customers have told us that our system is more useful in taking practical steps towards a healthier diet.

'Tesco nutritional signposts are already helping millions of customers to make healthier choices. Sales data demonstrates that when nutritional signposts are added many shoppers switch to products which are lower in salt and fat. Traffic lights may never produce these results.'