Case Study: UK ‘Traffic Light’ Front of Pack Colour Thresholds

UK FOP Traffic Light Food 800 x 533

Our client, a cereal manufacturer, contacted us after discovering what they believed was a discrepancy in the UK front of pack nutrition labelling between their product and a very similar, competitor’s product.

Given that Muesli is marketed as a healthier option compared to added sugar breakfast cereals, and in view of comparisons with their competitor, it made sense that the client also wanted to achieve an amber sugars content value.

The two products had similar ingredients. The nutrition information was also very similar, but there was an important difference between the results our client was achieving for their UK ‘traffic-light’ front of pack labelling, and the competitor’s labelling, which could negatively impact sales.

The client had noticed that on their front of pack label, although the sugars content value per portion size serving was very close to their competitor’s (11.1g and 11.2g), and both had the same percentage of the daily adult reference intake (12%), their product had a red value, but their competitor’s had an amber value.

Although the products’ portion sizes were different (45g and 50g), this didn’t explain the difference because, somewhat confusingly, whereas the front of pack nutrition values are based on the portion size, the accompanying traffic-lights colour coding is based on the ‘per 100g’ values.

To explain this mystery, we looked closely at each product’s nutrition information panel for the sugars’ per 100g values and discovered that whilst our client’s sugars were 24.6g per 100g, their competitor’s sugars were 22.4g.

Whilst admittedly only a small difference, the traffic-light threshold for an amber value is up to 22.5g per 100g of sugar, so only the competitor’s product fell within the amber threshold.

Once the client was made aware of this threshold, they reformulated the sugars content of their recipe to 22.5g or less to achieve their amber nutrition target.

As demonstrated, even a small reformulation of your recipe’s less healthy ingredients can potentially make a significant difference to the product’s UK traffic light labelling or HFSS score, possibly improving sales and nutrition marketing claims.

Image: Traffic light thresholds criteria shown is for food products only. See separate criteria table for drink products in FSA Front of Pack label guide document, Annex 3.

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