Nestle, Unilever and PepsiCo are among the food companies that are to work on devising colour-coded nutrition labels to put on products on sale in the EU.

Six manufacturers, which also include Mars Inc, Mondelez International and Coca-Cola Co., want to introduce an “EU-harmonised, colour-coded labelling scheme” based on portion sizes.

Since 2013, some suppliers operating in the UK, including PepsiCo and Mars but not Unilever and Mondelez, have used colour-coded, front-of-pack labels anchored on the level of a nutrient per 100g, not per portion – unless the amount in a portion exceeds 30% of the reference intake (RI).

The six companies have launched a “taskforce” that is looking into “integrating portion sizes in the existing colour-coded RI scheme as applied in UK and Ireland”.

However, the manufacturers sought to emphasise what they saw as the benefit of having a single labelling scheme in-place across the EU, as well as touting the advantages of basing the labels in portion sizes.

“The environment where countries introduce separate schemes leads us down a path which threatens both in terms of business complexity and potential consumer and customer impact, especially as these labels can be simplistic and inconsistent,” Hubert Weber, the president of Mondelez’s business in the EU, said. “This is why we believe the time is now to work together to consider development of a harmonized European colour-coded label, which includes guidance to consume smaller portion sizes.”

Unilever, another notable absentee from the UK scheme four years ago, said having one scheme would be helpful to consumers. “This work is a testimony that we put consumers at the heart of everything we do. We are pioneering a pan-European nutrition labelling scheme and providing information that is simple and straightforward. By doing this at portion level, we make it easier for consumers to choose products that fit in their diet,” Jan Zijderveld, the president of Unilever’s European arm, said.