Consumers in the EU need more consistent, front-of-pack nutrition labels on food in order to make more informed choices, according to a study.

The study, conducted by a consortium of universities and retailers, including Tesco, found that only half of 37,000 products surveyed across 84 retail stores in the EU contained front-of-pack nutrition labels. 

The researchers were operating as part of the Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life (FLABEL) project, which provides research on consumer behaviour.

Following surveys with consumers at the retail stores audited, the researchers concluded that one of the main issues affecting the impact of nutrition labels on purchases is the lack of attention to the nutrition information. FLABEL found that food packages held consumers' attention "for very short periods", on average "between 25 and 100 milliseconds".

FLABEL scientific advisor professor Klaus Grunert, of Aarhus University in Denmark, said that the most promising option for increasing consumers' attention to nutrition information is to provide information on the front of the pack, "in a consistent way".

He added: "Complementing this information with a health logo can also increase attention to, and use of, the information, especially when the consumer is under time pressure. Similarly, use of colour coding can increase attention and use in certain situations, although the effects of both are not strong."

The European Commission has already moved to harmonise nutrition labelling across the EU's 27 member states. In July, MEPs voted in favour of new labelling laws based on guideline daily amounts. 

However, the new rules did not make it mandatory for food manufacturers to place labels on the front of packaging, only on the back. Front-of-pack labels remain voluntary.