Traffic Light Nutrition Labels Affect Marketing

The traffic light labelling scheme is a fairly simple idea. It uses colour coding for the consumer to know the nutritional values and problems for a product, at a glance. Red is used for a high count of an unfavourable ingredient, such as fat or salt. Amber, or yellow, highlights ingredients or calorie counts as middle of the road and is meant as cautionary. Green is good and can be indications of low fat, low calories or even if the food product is vegetarian, among others.

Currently the traffic light scheme is voluntary. It was introduced in 2013 by the Department of Health and there has been a movement towards changing this labelling scheme from voluntary to mandatory. With the announcement of the Childhood Obesity Plan, a plan that was put into place to fight childhood obesity, the government and associations such as the Local Government Association, are determined to go one step further by making the colour-coding mandatory.

It is estimated that over one-third of all food products do not use the traffic light nutritional scheme on their products. This is very disappointing to many who believe that consumers are now used to looking for and reading, at a glance, the nutritional facts about a product. Izzi Seccombe, the chairwoman of the Local Government Association, said that it is confusing for consumers, without a standard and consistent system of labelling. 

“Consumers need a single, standard and consistent system which should be universally adopted. It needs to be something that they can read and understand quickly and easily,” she said. While the traffic light scheme is widely used and consumers find helpful and are familiar with it, confusing can arise due to the fact that it is not mandatory and not all products have it on their labels.

The inconsistency of these labels lead to confusion and, perhaps, uninformed decisions by consumers. There is no clear indication why some producers are against using the traffic light system for nutritional facts. Perhaps there is fear that the traffic light on their labels will do more harm than good in their marketing schemes. That’s the whole point, though. If the traffic light scheme were to be made mandatory, perhaps more producers would look at ways to make their products healthier.