Red alert: Why cereal ‘traffic light’ labelling can only be good for our health

Cereal labelling

Published on 29 November 2018

A University of Sunderland expert in nutrition has welcomed a move by a cereal giant to adopt a traffic light labelling system on most of its packaging.

From early next year Kellogg's is to use the colour-coded scheme help consumers make healthier food choices.

The food giant said the voluntary labels would begin appearing on breakfast cereal packs made exclusively for sale in Britain, including Coco Pops, Crunchy Nut, Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, Frosties and Special K from January, with all products changed by early 2020.

Dr Dave Archer, a Senior Lecturer in Exercise Physiology and Sports Nutrition at the University said the move would help people make informed choices when it came to their breakfast cereal.

He said: “The UK Food Standards Agency launched its first version of the traffic light system just over 10 years ago, but it is a voluntary system.

“Research across the world has shown that the use of easily interpretable front-of-pack nutrition increases the likeliness of people choosing healthy foods as we are often confused by all the nutrient details on the back of the pack.

“I welcome Kellogg’s decision to adopt the traffic light system on the majority of its cereals. Weetabix did the same thing last year and rolled it out for all their cereals and it is good to see other companies do likewise.”

Boxes sold across a number of European countries where colour-coded labels are not well known will not have the new design, leaving just under 80% of Kellogg's cereals on sale in the UK and Ireland carrying the traffic light system.

Traffic light labels show whether levels of sugar, salt and fat are high, medium or low using red, amber and green traffic light colours, and is based on the amount per 100g.

Kellogg's said the decision followed a survey of 2,000 Britons to ask them about their attitudes towards labelling.

Earlier this year, consumer group Which? called for mandatory traffic light labelling post-Brexit, warning that inconsistent information on popular adult breakfast cereals could be misleading shoppers about how much sugar, salt and fat they contain.

Dr Archer added: “It is interesting that only 80% of their cereals available in the UK and Rep. of Ireland will have the traffic light system. The cynic in me would query whether the remaining 20% being unlabelled will be due to them being also sold in other European countries, or because they have a high sugar content and hence would be labelled red.

“Interestingly, recent research from the UK indicates that shoppers show what we call ‘negativity bias’ in that they focus more on avoiding foods with red labels than choosing foods with green labels when making food choices.”

Many supermarket own-brands use the colour-coded scheme, but Which? said giant manufacturers like Kellogg's were lagging behind, and leaving consumers trying to eat more healthily to be faced with a bewildering array of nutritional data and portion sizes.

Its researchers analysed 31 cereals, porridges and granolas and found they could contain more than three quarters of an adult's recommended daily maximum of free sugars in one portion - with the true sugar level not reflected on the packaging.