/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Food traffic light labels – the big switch on

A green traffic light

It’s a big day for healthy choices – the new food traffic light label scheme has been announced. Have you spotted any red, amber or green labels on your favourite products?

Today the government announced a new nutrition labelling scheme. It will include traffic light colour coding to tell you the levels of fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt in foods. The new labels will also provide information about the percentage reference intake (until now called ‘guideline daily amounts’ or GDAs).

This may sound slightly familiar to you. Which? has been campaigning for traffic light labelling for nearly a decade. And if you’ve been shopping in Asda, The Co-operative, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose or buying McCain products, for example, traffic lights on the front of food packaging will be nothing new.

But today really does mark the start of something different and more fundamental. All 10 major supermarkets have committed to using the new scheme on their own-brand products. They will be rolling it out over the next few months and will all use the same criteria that have been developed by the Department of Health.

Big names on board

Crucially, several of the leading food manufacturers have also committed to use the scheme for the first time. These manufacturers are Mars UK, Nestle UK, PepsiCo UK and Premier Foods. This means that products like Mars bars and Mr Kipling cakes will soon have red, amber or green colour coding, so you can easily see which products are high, medium or low in fat, sugar and salt. The businesses that have signed up to using the new labels account for more than 60% of the food sold in the UK.

Until now these manufacturers have been putting percentage GDAs on their packs, but had not adopted traffic light colour coding. Their support for the new labels is an enormous change and we hope that other manufacturers, like Kellogg’s and Unilever, will quickly follow their example.

Many people tell us that they struggle to eat healthily. Consistent nutrition labelling is one of the top actions people think would help them make healthier choices.

Our consumer research shows that traffic light labels work best for most people – making it easy to compare products and spot the healthier choices among the vast array of foods on offer.

Traffic lights also act as an incentive for food manufacturers to make their products healthier, so that they can offer consumers a choice of products carrying more ‘ambers’ and ‘greens’, rather than ‘reds’.

Today marks an important step forward. We now need the rest of the food manufacturers to commit to using this new scheme.


Drivers have become accustomed to seeing red traffic lights and I expect that shoppers will soon become accustomed to seeing these symbols.

Obviously it is helpful to move towards all manufacturers using the same symbol, but perhaps it is the two litre bottles of Coca-Cola and ten packs of Mars Bars at discount prices that are the a bigger problem.

You don’t have to eat what we regard as junk foods to mess up your diet. There’s some nice large pieces of tasty mature cheese on offer this week. The traffic lights show they are low sugar too, which is good. Perhaps the fat and salt content is not that great……..

Howard the Celeriac says:
19 June 2013

I say

I like the Sainbury’s system. As someone who needs to keep an eye on salt intake it makes life easy to be able to spot products with high salt content without having to look at the small print. This is not to say that a red salt segment means an automatic rejection of a product but rather that I need to look a little more carefully at the figures and consider my total expected salt intake for the day.

It’s difficult not to be skeptical about (a) who decides the boundaries for green/amber/red, and (b) a certain degree of over-simplification. Maybe there is a dietary hint in that fresh fruit, veg etc don’t grow with nutrition lables attached, it’s just the products of food factories (large and small) that need transparency. At least there is plenty of roughage in paper Howard!

I hope the labelling will be in a consistent format. It would be unhelpful to have some labels side-by-side and others in a pie chart, for example.

Billie says:
27 June 2013

Being a diabetic I would also welcome the carbohydrate amount being stated as per product instead as per 100g so I don’t have to calculate it myself. I find this very frustrating!

I bought a ham sandwich just before Marks & Spencer closed yesterday, without noticing that it contained 40% of the guideline daily amount of salt for an adult.

The other local branch proclaims: “We’re committed to reducing salt faster than you can say ‘sodium chloride’.”

I would probably have noticed if the traffic light label was bright red, but salmon pink would be a better description. Please play the food labelling game fairly, M&S.