Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly joining larger manufacturers in embracing voluntary food labelling, developed by the EU food and drink industry.
In fact, companies of all sizes across Europe are updating the labelling on their packaging to meet the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) labelling system and contribute their efforts to combating obesity, according to the Confederation of the food and drink industries of the EU (CIAA).
The news comes on the third anniversary of the EU Platform for Action on Diet, Physical Activity and Health, established to bring industry, consumer groups, health experts and political leaders together to discuss voluntary actions, such as labelling, to improve the health of European consumers.
"I am pleased to see a growing number of small and medium sized business now choosing to adopt GDA labelling," said Jean Martin, president of the CIAA.
"It is becoming ever clearer that GDAs are the best option for everyone: from the small local producer to the large multinational, and for all Europeans looking for clear, consistently presented and non-judgemental information about their diet."
Adoption of GDAs
GDAs, which requires the energy content to appear on the front of a pack, with salt, sugars, fat, saturates and salt having to appear on the front or back, is the labelling of choice for the CIAA, which represents European food and drink companies.
It is meant to help consumers make healthier choices by clearly showing them the nutrient value of the product.
Over 300m adults are obese worldwide, representing a three-fold increase since the 1980s, according to latest statistics from the WHO and the International Obesity Task Force. In 2006, 30 per cent of European children were estimated to be overweight.
Major companies, such as Kellogg, will have introduced the GDA labelling to all its brands by June 2008, following the introduction of the scheme in 2006. And Nestle will have the labelling on 100 per cent of its products by this December
Others, such as Kraft and Mars, have followed a more gradual approach. Kraft pledges to label 30 per cent of its production volume with GDAs by June, 52 per cent by this December, and 100 per cent by December 2009.
Unilever pledges to have the labelling on 50 per cent of its products by June, 90 per cent by December 2008, and 100 per cent by December 2009.
However, emerging results from current independent research show that small companies are now following the example of bigger manufacturers.
The Survey of European Food and Beverage Manufacturers: Meeting the Changing Needs of European Consumers through reformulation, innovation and labelling, has questioned 2,025 companies so far half of which are SMEs.
According to the Food and Drink Federation in the UK, where GDA labelling is used on more than half all retail packs, nation consumer research shows high levels of awareness of the scheme among shoppers who are more and more using the information to inform their food choices.
Mandatory food labelling
CIAA's announcement gives further support for its argument that voluntary labelling is the most efficient policy for industry and consumers.
However, this January, the European Commission announced it had finalised proposals for modernising and reforming EU labelling requirements for food and drink products, to ensure consistency across Europe and put a stop to a confusing plethora of labels to choose from.
The proposals push for manufacturers to display levels of energy, fat, saturated fat and carbohydrates, with specific reference to sugars and salt content of the product, expressed in terms of per 100ml/100g or per portion on the front of the pack.
In addition, the amount of these elements in relation to the reference intakes would have to be indicated. The proposal is now being discussed in Council and will then go to Parliament.
At the time the proposals were agreed on, a spokesperson for CIAA said the timing is unfortunate: "The implementation of the CIAA Nutrition Labelling Scheme is making rapid progress with an increasing number of companies adopting GDAs.
"We understand that the European Commission does not have sufficient data to back one particular scheme… We fear that this approach will substantially weaken the single market and consequently the competitiveness of the food and drink industry."
However, the CIAA said it appreciates the recognition granted by the Commission proposal to its GDA scheme and reference values. Although voluntary, it says 1,030 brands will be using the GDA labelling by the end of 2008.