Phase one of world’s most extensive food labelling study complete

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 2nd May 2009

Eighty-five per cent of food packages sold in the EU have nutritional information, according to the first released findings of project FLABEL (Food Labelling to Advance Better Education for Life). An audit of the penetration of nutrition information recorded data from more than 35,000 products from 5 food and beverage product categories in retailers across the EU 27 Member States and Turkey.

Main findings
On average, 85% of the products audited contained nutritional information on the back of pack, ranging from 70% for Cyprus and Slovenia to more than 95% for Ireland, UK and The Netherlands. Front-of-pack nutrition information was found on average on 48% of all products, reaching as high as 82% in the UK.

Food labels

By far the most wide-spread format across all countries was the tabular or linear listing of nutrient composition on the back of packs, stating either the ‘big 4’ (calories, protein, carbohydrates, fat) or the ‘big 8’ (big 4 plus sugar, saturated fat, fibre and sodium).

Overall, breakfast cereal was the category with the highest penetration of nutrition information, displaying nutrition information back of pack on 94% of products and front of pack on 70% of products.

Nutrition claims were on 25% of the products audited, ranging from 12% in Estonia to 37% in Ireland and Portugal. Guideline Daily Amounts (GDA) were on 25% of products, ranging from 2% in Turkey to 63% in the UK.

Nutrition claims and GDAs were found to be the most prevalent forms of nutrition information on the front-of-pack.

Next steps
Nutrition labelling, whilst voluntary in Europe except when a nutrition or health claim is made, was found on a large majority of products audited and its presence seems higher than reported previously. Subsequent FLABEL studies will involve attention, reading, liking, understanding and use by consumers of different nutrition labelling formats.

Industry response

The Food and Drink Federation, the leading industry body for food manufacturers in the UK, welcomed the extensive, world-first study.

“This research is unprecedented: no-one has tried to conduct an audit on this scale before. And the initial results are hugely significant for the debate on labelling that is happening here in the UK,” Julian Hunt, FDF’s Director of Communications, said. “The results about GDA labelling show high penetration for a system that has been developed on a voluntary basis in the UK. More importantly, we believe this research underlines the fact that the UK has led the debate across Europe.”

The research is destined to guide future policy decisions in Europe, and probably the rest of the world as well.