Tesco’s move is a major U-turn that marks a significant step towards the Department of Health’s goal of a common system of health labelling.
The UK’s largest supermarket will adopt a hybrid labelling system combining its existing Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) with the traffic light colour coding system – a move it said followed new consumer research.
Retailer Sainsbury’s claims a similar scheme has helped transform the food choices of its shoppers in favour of more healthy products.
Tesco said new research showed customers remained happy with GDAs and continued to favour them over traffic light colour coding, which it claims in isolation does not provide enough detail.
But it in a statement, it added: “The research also showed that customers prefer the combination of traffic light colours, which give simple at-a-glance guidance, and GDAs, which give accurate and meaningful information.
“Customers also want a consistent approach to labelling across the industry and Tesco is committed to working with the government, NGOs, public health organisations, other retailers and our supply chain to try to achieve this.”
Chief executive Philip Clarke added: “Tesco has led the way in giving shoppers clear information about the food they eat and was the first retailer to put nutritional information on the front of our packs in 2005 when we rolled out our Guideline Daily Amount labels.
“We always listen to our customers and they have told us that by combining our popular GDA labels with traffic light colour coding we can make it even easier for them to make informed and healthy choices about the food they buy.
“We are committed to doing what is right for our customers and therefore have decided to bring together the distinct benefits of GDAs and traffic lights. We know customers are looking for a consistent approach, and intend to work with government, health bodies, other retailers and manufacturers to deliver this as soon as possible.”
The news was welcomed by Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley, NGOs and public health groups including the British Heart Foundation.
Peter Hollins, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “The British Heart Foundation, the nation’s heart charity, congratulates Tesco on this decision. This action by the UK’s largest supermarket will help millions of busy shoppers to make healthier eating choices and could have a real impact on people’s diets.”
Which? executive director, Richard Lloyd, added: “Which? has long been campaigning for supermarkets to improve nutritional information on packaging, so this is a positive step from Tesco.
“With obesity levels on the increase it’s more important than ever that people know what’s in their food so they can make an informed choice. Which? wants all food retailers and manufacturers to include traffic lights on food packaging.”