The Food Standards Agency (FSA) today announced the launch of the largest research project it has undertaken to date, to look at what consumers would like to see on front-of-pack labelling. 

The Agency will conduct this research as part of its work to develop a labelling scheme that can be adopted by retailers and manufacturers to help consumers make healthier choices when they shop," it said.

"Consumers want the healthy choice to be the easy choice, one that makes sense for them and their families," said FSA director of consumer choice and dietary health Gill Fine. "Many sectors of the food industry have introduced their own signposting schemes. Although we welcome action to help make healthier eating easier, we are concerned that different schemes may cause confusion."

"We want to know what works best for consumers and that's what this research is all about" she said. "The results will be used to develop a single, easy-to-understand scheme that could be the same wherever you shop."

A total of 2,600 people will be interviewed to examine which of the four potential schemes they find most useful in helping them to assess the nutritional content of food quickly and easily.

The concepts that are to be tested have been developed through agency research and in consultation with consumer groups and the food industry.

The results of the research will be published later this year and will be used to inform the development of guidance for manufacturers and retailers on how the final scheme will work.

The guidance will be put out for consultation with the intention that a signposting scheme will be ready to roll out in 2006.

The methodology for the research was agreed following a consultation in March asking for comments on the proposed format and scope.

The research will examine shoppers' use and understanding of, and preference for, four possible concepts:

GDA-based concept with colour coding: indicating the amount of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar provided per serving, together with the GDA for each nutrient; accompanied by colours to indicate whether the content of each nutrient in the food is high, medium or low

GDA-based concept monochrome: indicating the amount of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar provided per serving, together with the GDA for each nutrient

Multiple traffic lights: with a separate high, medium or low rating (and corresponding red, amber or green colour coding) for each of fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar

Simple traffic light: providing an overall (colour coded) rating for the food as a whole, with descriptive wording.