Blog: Dean BestUnilever sheds light on opposition to traffic lights

Dean Best | 27 June 2013

Some argued Unilever, with its record on corporate responsibility, was a surprise absentee from the list of companies to sign up to the new front-of-pack nutrition labels in the UK. A week after the labels were unveiled, Unilever has shed some light on why it did not back the initiative.

Mars and PepsiCo were among the suppliers that did pledge to use the new FOP labels but there were still several big names that refused to sign up, including Mondelez International, Kellogg and Unilever.

In his latest Consuming issues column, just-food contributing editor Ben Cooper said Unilever CEO Paul Polman, an executive often at the forefront and leading the debate on other issues, "must have a heavy heart when seeing his company cast as a laggard in such a prominent area of corporate social responsibility".

When the labels were announced last Wednesday, Unilever did not respond to requests for comment on why it had opted not to back the scheme, drawn up by sections of the UK food industry and the country's government.

However, this week, in a statement to just-food, Unilever has spoken out against the new labels.

"We haven't signed up to the new pledge on front-of-pack labelling as we feel that it doesn't allow consumers to clearly identify healthier products within each food group. For instance, butter and spreads would both be labelled red for saturated fat, despite the fact that spreads contain four times less saturated fat. We want to ensure that our consumers can make informed choices so we'll continue to work hard to continuously improve our food products and on-pack information," the company said.

In some ways, with a portfolio that includes Flora and Magnum ice creams (Unilever is the world's largest ice cream maker), it is hardly a surprise the consumer goods giant has not backed the initiative. Its product range would, in theory, be among those affected the most from the new label, which includes the use of traffic lights, so disliked by some in the industry for, as they argue, being too blunt an instrument for giving consumers nutritional information.

However, while Unilever has worked so hard in other areas of corporate responsibility (in food, it has been among the leaders on the use of sustainable palm oil and on the use of certified cocoa), that its absence from the list did cause a stir among those in the ethical community.


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