Traffic Light’s Success on Streets & in Supermarkets

Articles
September 15, 2009

Traffic Light’s Success on Streets & in Supermarkets

As Americans struggle to understand (or continue to blatantly ignore) the nutrition facts labels on their foods; as well as become even more confused by the variety of labeling programs designed to make identifying healthier foods easier, our comrades across the pond seem to be much closer to “quick reference” label perfection.

As Americans struggle to understand (or continue to blatantly ignore) the nutrition facts labels on their foods; as well as become even more confused by the variety of labeling programs designed to make identifying healthier foods easier, our comrades across the pond seem to be much closer to “quick reference” label perfection. Funded by the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), a report supporting a single front-of-pack labeling program that includes the UK’s current “traffic light colors”, the words “high, medium, and low”, and the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) (similar to the US’s dietary reference intake) was recently released.  The research sought to uncover general consumer understanding, and use of FOP nutrition labels; an investigation inline with the government’s ‘Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives’ initiative.  The study was conducted over 18 months by an independent agency.  
 
Some of the main findings of the research included: a single front-of-pack label is most helpful to shoppers, as the presence of different labeling causes confusion and more difficulty in using the supposed handy, quick reference. The majority of shoppers who use this type of labeling reported that they were shopping for children, comparing different products, shopping to fit a certain medical diagnosis e.g. hypertension, or watching their weight. The aforementioned consumers and others who use the labeling greatly value it.  
 
The researchers also concluded that consumers have a generally high level of understanding regarding the information found on the front-of-pack labels; which suggests that raising awareness of a single scheme could encourage increased front-of-pack use when buying food. Evidence also suggested that the combination of words (high, medium, low), colors (red, yellow, green) and GDA percentages, created the most comprehensive and favorable label.  
 
Currently, a variety of UK retailers and brands have adopted the FSA’s traffic light system, which includes the red, green and yellow traffic light colors, the associated words: high (red), medium (yellow), low (green), and the respective GDAs. As of yet this quick reference system is not a mandatory labeling practice in the UK. Could the results of this study prompt a unified, industry wide front-of-pack labeling program, or at least prompt more manufacturers to adopt this effective system? Answers to that question may come in time- but the study’s relevance to the issues Americans are facing in the Supermarket aisles is obvious. We should only hope for a unified labeling scheme in our country in the near future- and not in ten years when we might conduct a similar analysis on our own turf.