‘Many consumers do not understand nutritional labelling’: Nestlé Cereals raises red flag over traffic lights confusion

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Research looks at whether consumers understand traffic light labels. The results are in: confusion is widespread / Pic: GettyImages MrPliskin
Research looks at whether consumers understand traffic light labels. The results are in: confusion is widespread / Pic: GettyImages MrPliskin

Related tags: Nutritional labelling, Nestle Cereals UK

Nestlé Cereals has conducted research into consumer attitudes to nutritional labelling in the UK. The results are in. “Our research shows many consumers do not understand how to interpret the nutritional labelling information,” FoodNavigator hears.

New consumer research from Nestlé Cereals has revealed that 34% of UK consumers do not know what the traffic light front-of-pack nutritional labelling system means, with more than one-in-ten saying they aren’t even aware of its existence.

Green means go… or no?

Confusion, it would seem, is widespread. Of those who are aware of the system, there remains ‘significant misunderstanding’ around what the colours in the system actually mean.

“Only two fifths (40%) of people surveyed understood a green label to mean that the product is low in a nutrient and therefore the healthier choice,”​ Toby Baker, Marketing Director UK at Nestlé Cereals, told FoodNavigator. A third of people, 34%, thought green meant the product was high in a nutrient.

Describing the findings as ‘concerning’, Baker stressed that consumers do want to know more. “Almost half of those surveyed (48%) wanted to know more about the front of pack ‘traffic light’ nutritional labelling system, which indicates there is an appetite from consumers to better understand the information so they are able to make more informed choices for themselves and their families,”​ he suggested.

Even if people don’t understand what the labels mean, the traffic light system is influential in the purchasing behaviour of a majority of Brits. Seventy-six percent said they look at the system when choosing something to eat and half of UK shoppers confirmed it influences what they purchase or eat.

Nestlé Cereals' ‘no reds’ pledge

To try and combat this communication gap, Nestlé Cereals is working to provide additional information to UK shoppers on the nutritional content of its brands.

“It is concerning that our research shows many consumers do not understand how to interpret the nutritional labelling information. That’s why, as part of our ‘no red’s’ campaign, we’ve updated our website with some useful resources where consumers can find out more information about the nutritional traffic light labelling system,”​ Baker said.

The company is also leveraging additional on-pack signposting in an attempt to make it clear what the healthier choice is. “Providing clarity to our consumers on the nutritional value of our products is very important to us, that’s why in addition to the nutritional traffic light labelling system we have the Nestlé green banner which enables consumers to easily identify cereals where whole grain is the number one ingredient,”​ we were told.

The findings come as Nestlé Cereals launches its ‘no reds’ campaign – an advertising campaign featuring an imagined ‘World’s Widest Variety Pack’ to raise awareness of the fact that 18 products in its portfolio contain no red traffic lights.

“At Nestlé Cereals we are extremely proud of the sugar and salt reductions we’ve achieved as part of our long-term commitment to improve the nutritional value of our cereals. Between 2010 and 2020, we removed 516 million teaspoons of sugar and 20 million teaspoons of salt across all products and we’re delighted that now 84% of our product portfolio contain ‘no reds’,”​ Baker elaborated.

“Of course, this is an ongoing commitment and we are always looking for ways in which we continue to increase the nutritional value of our portfolio – whether that’s further reformulating our much-loved brands or introducing new low-sugar variants, such as Cheerios Vanilla Os which launched back in September 2021 and contain less than 5% sugar.”

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