/ Food & Drink, Health

How light is your lunch? You might be surprised…

How healthy is your sandwich? We’ve found the answer could depend on where you shop. We want to take your views to the government so it can encourage shops to be clearer about what’s in our food.

Whether your favourite sarnie is a BLT, a chicken salad or something completely different you may be able to get a healthier version of your preferred lunchtime snack if you shop around.

Research we released today found you could be eating three times as much fat and double the amount of salt as you’d have in the same sandwich bought elsewhere.

So how do you know what you’re eating? Well that’s just it – unless all the places where you buy your sandwiches use the same traffic light labelling scheme it could be very difficult to tell.

Double the fat for the same sandwich?

Although I’m a vegetarian, I was shocked to find out that Morrisons chicken salad sandwich contains almost double the amount of fat (11.7g) than the same sandwich from Waitrose (6.0g).

Waitrose uses traffic lights but Morrisons doesn’t, so how could you tell that the Morrisons sandwich is the less healthy option? It would take quite a bit of planning, calculating and note writing to work it out. As much as I always prefer to go for the healthy option, I just don’t have the spare time for that.

We’ve discussed the use of traffic light labels before on Which? Convo. Andy told us that:

‘I religiously now examine saturated fat and salt content but would love a traffic light system so I wouldnt waste time examining the labels of foods with big red blobs on them.’

Stevie B pointed out that colour-coded things would be easier for those who have problems reading the very small print:

‘The traffic light method is good for me, as reading small print is tough without glasses these days. Easy to read labels allows a more informed choice and the easier the better for me.’

Help us lobby for better labelling

image of traffic light labelling for food

At Which? we’d like to see clear, consistent labelling right on the front of food packaging.

Do you think a system of traffic lights, like the one on the left, would help you make healthier choices?

The Department of Health wants to know – it released a consultation on Monday to help decide on the best scheme. We’ll be responding and would like to include your views as well – it’s important that consumers have their say on food labelling.

  • Would a traffic light scheme that was the same across all packaging help you make healthier choices?
  • What products would you like to see traffic lights on?
  • Would you find it useful to see ‘high’, ‘medium’ and ‘low’ on the traffic lights as well as the colours?

We’ll be talking to the Department of Health so that it can take your feedback on board. Together we can help the government work out how food labelling can work best for those buying the sandwiches.


From the Food Standards Agency website:
General food labelling policy in England has transferred from the Food Standards Agency to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). In England, the Agency still has responsibility for food safety-related labelling issues (for example allergen labelling and ‘use by’ dates), while nutrition labelling is the responsibility of the Department of Health, and Defra is responsible for all other labelling policy.

The Agency is still responsible for all labelling and standards policy in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Perhaps the FSA and Defra should get together and sort out one system that we can all understand and make good use of, taking into account the fact that food prepared on the premises can vary in composition and amount, and that some of the population are colour blind and find colour coding difficult to interpret.

If our quangos can’t cope with this exercise then perhaps a class of intelligent schoolkids could manage to do a good job.

I dont know about sandwiches perhaps they are better in Aldi or Lidl?.Aldi&Lidl beat ASDA regarding amout of fish per portion Frozern.If i was buying a Chicken of Beef Sandwich id want to know the percentage of Chicken or Beef in it Clearly labeled on the Front of the Product not in microlabelling at the back its outragous food manufacters are allowed to get away with this. Labelling food needs to be
Clear and put an end to micro Labelling is a must.

Paddy Murphy says:
18 May 2012

I never buy sandwiches from supermarkets or petrol stations because the selection of the white bread variety is so poor. Brown bread tastes like minced cardboard and often gives me indigestion

Eileen says:
19 May 2012

Which please campaign for traffic lights on food packaging as it’s clearer to see straight away if one did not bring their reading glasses .

Eileen says:
19 May 2012

Food that contain PALM oil should not be marked as vegetable oil.Palm oil is full of saturates whereas rape seed oil does not.I will never buy anything with Palm oil but I suspect sometimes it comes under the disguise of vegetable oil.Palm oil not only contains full of saturates but palm oil has destroyed the rain forest and the orang utans.I think Marks and Spencer s own food does not contain palm oil but not 100% sure.

I agree Eileen i aways try to read the Percentage of fats with very small Labeling one almost needs a microscope to read it never mind Reading glasses hence i call it Microscopic Labeling its so small i expect most just have a glance cannot read it then either buy it or put it back.Yesterday i dicovered Aldi sell Frozern Fish Athough a smaller weight Cod/Haddock containing 87% Fish as i dont use Marks&spencer i cannot compare but it Certainly beats ASDA only offering Youngs miserly 50%.I wonder just how many would buy that brand if they actually knew they were getting only half a packet of fish.I suspect many would walk away and not buy it.The public are conned by glossy photopackaging.If manufacturers spent less on the packages they could afford to increase the percentage of Fish in the product.This applies to all foods not just fish if iwas buying a sandwich id want to know how much Beef/Chicken/Turkey is in it.

If extensive information about the contents is compulsory, you must either make the print smaller or the packaging larger…

Deirdre says:
19 May 2012

As a graphic artist there are many ways of using larger typefaces if the brand logos &/or names of the product are made just a little smaller.
I would like to see traffic lights for every product.
I would also like to have even less salt and sugar especially in the breads used. (I usually find Waitrose’ sandwiches god but found a prawn ‘mayo’ in very sweet bread not too good) I would also like to see a choice of bread for every filling, (difficult I know).
I had a nasty experience in buying cocktail sausages from Tescos on a hurry. When I tried one it tasted like pure grease and turned out to have NO MEAT in it only ‘pork fat’. I no longer buy food from Tescos unless in an emergency then with great care!

Deirdre this is why i say whatever food product you are buying from a supermarket or store you should know via the Label what Percentage of the product is that you are buying it should say e.g. 50%Beef/ Fish/ Chicken/Turkey/Other.Sandwich;Tin;Frozen Food.

Toby says:
21 May 2012

I think the traffic light system is great, especially when high/med/low are also added. The only reason it’s not law is down to lobbying from food groups who don’t want consumers to know what they’re eating.

Toby says:
21 May 2012

‘Each portion’ is too vague, as it allows manufacturers to get away with pretending that a ready meal or can of soup is for two people and dividing all the numbers in half, when it’s clear that a normal person will eat the whole thing themselves.
Of course some items really are for multiple people (eg a huge ‘family’ pie).
My suggestion would be that if a container is for multiple people, then TWO traffic lights should be on the front. One labelled ‘This packet’ or similar and the other ‘Each portion’.

Toby says:
21 May 2012

I’ve just realised that I don’t know if the colours and high/med/low refer to the total amount consumed, or the per 100g value. If it’s per 100g, then the colours wouldn’t change between the ‘Whole packet’ and ‘Each portion’ traffic lights, although the values would.

Toby says:
21 May 2012

Some people want to compare foods on their composition per 100g. I’m not sure another traffic light is appropriate in this case, but the values should be on the front of the packet!

Toby says:
21 May 2012

Traffic light system works and is easy to read and base comparison decisions on.
Most of the time I’m comparing a range of similar products side by side so whether its based on 100g or whatever makes no difference. Portion or serving size is meaningless.
the food companies are not keen on the traffic lights becasue it works.
The pastel coloured % signage as used by tescos I cannot make head or tail of!

Traffic light labeling yesterday i bought a few tins of Hot Chilli Con Carne from Aldi i never read the Label properly.As normal cals;sugar;fat;;sats;salt Underneath in very small print amounts 1/2 can (Aprox200g)Approx % guideline daily amount Brand name Fiesta.Then i read Ingredients on the back to my Horror only 8%beef in a 400gram Can.priced £1.00.Con certainly is the correct word. When i buy i expect to read on the Traffic light Label for the whole product not half.So these products will be returned and a Complaint made by letter Aldi Website does NOT have Customer feedback.This product is only equal to ASDA Smart Price c.con carne at 54p.While in Asda i noticed very few Ladies reading the boxs of Frozern Fish they were just throw em into the Trolley i wonder how many realise they only get half a box of fish?????.