Mars bars are set to use the new label, which will include traffic lights

Mars bars are set to use the new label, which will include traffic lights

Chocolate giant Mars Inc and crisp manufacturer PepsiCo are among over 20 food makers and retailers to agree to adopt new "hybrid" front-of-pack nutrition labels in the UK.

Meat supplier Bernard Matthews Farms and cake supplier Premier Foods plc are also part of a group of companies that have pledged to use the new label, which combines nutrition information with traffic light colour-coding.

All major UK supermarkets have signed up to the voluntary scheme but some major suppliers, including Kellogg, Mondelez International and Unilever, have decided not to use the new label. Nestle said all its "fully-owned businesses" in the UK, including its confectionery and beverage units, would use the label. Cereal Partners UK, the local division of Cereal Partners Worldwide, Nestle's breakfast cereals venture with General Mills, will not adopt the label.

The label will show the amount of energy - presented in kilocalories and kilojoules - fat, saturated fat, salt and sugar contained in food.

The information will be presented as "reference intakes" - formerly known as Guideline Daily Amounts, or GDAs - and will show how much of the maximum daily intake a portion accounts for.

The label will also use a red, amber or green colour-coding system, based on the level of a nutrient per 100g, not per portion - unless the amount in a portion exceeds 30% of the reference intake.

UK public health minister Anna Soubry said the new "consistent" label would mean consumers "find it easier to make healthier choices about the food they eat".

Soubry said: "The UK already has the largest number of products using a front of pack label in Europe but we know that people get confused by the variety of labels that are used. Research shows that, of all the current schemes, people like this label the most and they can use the information to make healthier choices."

The Government said the companies that have signed up to use the new label account for more than 60% of food sold in the UK.

Front-of-pack nutrition labels have long divided the industry, with a number of different labels being used. Nearly all manufacturers, and the country's largest retailer, Tesco, had long opposed using traffic lights and backed the use of showing guideline daily amounts of nutrients on-pack.

However, last August, Tesco announced a surprise U-turn and said it would add traffic lights to its labels. Retailers including Morrisons, Aldi and Lidl followed. Two months later, the UK government said it would push for a standardised, hybrid front-of-pack nutrition label. The Government's recommendation meant it effectively backed the retailers' position and against that held by most suppliers, which had been against the use of traffic lights.

Consumer watchdog Which? said the new label was a "big step forward". Executive director Richard Lloyd said: "With levels of obesity and diet-related disease on the increase, it’s vitally important that people know what is in their food, and this labelling scheme will encourage food companies to do more to reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat in popular products. We hope that more food manufacturers will join the scheme so that their labels will be consistent and comparable to those on the front of the retailers' own packs."

Click here for a round-up of quotes from manufacturing, retail and NGO representatives on the new labels.

And click here for Ben Cooper's Consuming issues column, where he explains why the new initiative. are a tipping point for the debate over front-of-pack nutrition labels in the UK.