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Traffic light labelling UK – How to apply to your food label

Traffic light labelling UK – How to apply to your food label

The UK traffic light label is one of many forms of Front of Pack (FOP) labelling for pre-packed food and drinks used around the world. It is intended to support consumers in making informed choices about the products they buy, using visual cues to summarise the nutrient profiles of products (sugar, carbohydrates, salt and fat) giving them a red, orange, and green rating based on recommended daily intake levels.  The greener the product, the healthier it is suggested to be.

Traffic light labelling

When was the UK traffic light labelling scheme launched?

The original traffic light labelling scheme was launched in 2007 by the FSA.  When the EU Food Information to Consumers (FIC) and the UK Food Information Regulations (FIR) came into force in 2013, the scheme was reintroduced in its current form as a recommended voluntary scheme.

How to apply the traffic light labelling to your food label

As a voluntary scheme, it is not mandatory for products sold in the UK to use this. However, most major retailers and many major brands have opted in with approximately 2/3 of products on UK shelves displaying this front-of-pack labelling.

Should a food business operator choose to use it, there are several regulations in the retained Food Information to Consumers (FIC) regulations that must be followed to ensure food labelling compliance in the UK, these include:

  • The panel must include either energy only or all the macronutrient levels (sugar, salt, fat, carbohydrates and energy). It can not include just energy and sugar for example.
  • Energy must be given as per 100g/ml and per portion

The FSA has developed a useful guidance document that details a step-by-step process for how to compliantly use the scheme on labelling here.

Does traffic light labelling work for all products?

The challenge of developing a “one size fits all” scheme such as traffic light labelling is that it is not 100% foolproof. In efforts to maintain simplicity, the colour coding can poorly reflect the bigger-picture nutrient content of some products. For example, fresh and natural fruit juice may have a similar rating as Coca-Cola because of sugar content, however, nutritionally, fruit juice is healthier. Nuts are another example where the fat content may be high, but these fats are an important part of a balanced diet.

Will traffic light labelling become mandatory?

As part of government efforts to fight the obesity crisis, there are reviews of nutrition and health-related guidance which could mean schemes like traffic light labelling are further regulated. With moves being made in the EU to develop harmonised FOP labelling, and the recent High Fat, Salt, and Sugar (HFSS) advertising regulations still on the cards, we could see a shift from voluntary to mandatory labelling.

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Caitlin Stewart, Marketing Manager

My background in Food Science and Marketing means I have a unique combination of commercial creativity and technical food manufacturing experience. My ambition is to bring clarity to the complex world of compliance through the simple and eye-catching communication of Ashbury's services.

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