UK Voluntary ‘Front of Pack’ Food Labelling Consultation

United Kingdom

The Department of Health consultation on voluntary Front of Pack (“FOP”) nutrition labelling ended last month and has concluded in favour of a single hybrid FOP labelling system. This will combine guideline daily amounts (“GDAs”) together with colour coding (“traffic lights” of red, amber and green) to indicate high, medium and low amounts of calories, fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt. The new label is expected to be in use by Summer 2013.

The requirement to provide nutrition information in a set tabular form under the Food Information Regulation 1169/2011 (“FIR”) will apply from 13 December 2016. There is no mandatory requirement for FOP nutrition labelling.

Currently some manufacturers choose to list GDAs only on the front of packs, whilst others use traffic lights or a hybrid system but there is no one consistent industry view. The findings of the consultation come after the majority of retailers supported some form of colour coding.

There are a number of well known drawbacks in the use of colour coding:

  • Balanced diets are made up of more than single foods;
  • It does not take into account any additional nutritional values of the food; and
  • The colours may themselves infer claims about the food.

Although these colour coding schemes fall outside the scope of the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation 1924/2006, in essence they do provide a clear ‘green’ (i.e. healthy) or ‘red’ (i.e. warning) for certain foods, as opposed to GDAs that provide non-directive information. This therefore represents both a challenge and an opportunity depending on your product.

Nevertheless, research indicates that a consistent approach across industry would be of real benefit to consumers and, by being involved, industry has the opportunity to help shape the outcome of the UK’s position. This is particularly important when considering ongoing issues and debates. For example:

  • What amount should be used as the comparator? Whilst 100g allows a straight forward comparison this may be unrealistic as a portion size for certain foods.
  • How can other nutritionally beneficial elements be highlighted?
  • Should the intrinsic properties of certain ingredients, e.g. sugar that occurs naturally in fruits, be treated differently from sugar that is added separately?
  • Would the addition of KJ with Kcal actually help the consumer or serve to confuse them with additional numbers?
  • How can one clearly differentiate between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ fats?

The adoption of an agreed voluntary FOP scheme is likely to occur early next year, after which point manufacturers can expect increased pressure to comply. The trouble is companies are already facing the need to make extensive label changes in the coming years to comply with regulatory requirements which will involve a great deal of expenditure for business.

Also, Europe remains pided. The FIR states that additional forms of expression (“AFEs”) are permitted but national authorities should each recommend a system based on sound scientific research and following consultation. In five years’ time, all of the national authorities will provide their recommendations for an EU wide debate. The hybrid system proposed in the UK will be just one debate in parallel with 26 others (e.g. tick system in Netherlands). Therefore, for Europe-wide brands seeking uniformity there will still be uncertainty.