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ASDA Adopts Nutrition Labeling System

Jim Prevor’s Perishable Pundit, July 6, 2007

We mentioned some time ago that Hannaford had put together a program to rank the nutritional merit of almost the whole store. Now ASDA, Wal-Mart’s subsidiary in the U.K., has developed a new system, at least initially, for a smaller range of items:

ASDA SET TO INTRODUCE FRONT OF PACK NUTRITIONAL LABELING THAT COMBINES THE BENEFITS OF ‘TRAFFIC LIGHT’ AND GDA SYSTEMS

95% of consumers favor the ASDA system over other supermarkets’ alternatives

ASDA announced today (Thursday 5th July) it will become the first of the big four supermarkets to introduce a new food nutrition labeling system which gives customers the best of what both the ‘traffic light’ and GDA (guideline daily amount) systems have to offer.

The move follows extensive consumer research and a customer trial by the supermarket to determine the style and format of nutritional information its customers want to see.

Over 95 per cent of respondents favored the system that ASDA will now be adopting over other rival versions, and 64 per cent of Tesco customers favored the new ASDA nutrition label over Tesco’s own GDA version.

Key reasons for preferring the ASDA design were that they liked the bright traffic light colors which achieved stand out on pack and that the label was easy to read and understand.

The result is a supermarket labeling system which provides customers with the most detailed, easy-to-understand information available in the retail market today and appeals to both nutritionally aware and less knowledgeable customers alike.

ASDA’s new nutrition label has been welcomed by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and health minister, Dawn Primarolo, and is based on the FSA’s own traffic light labeling system.

It uses the distinct colors green, amber and red to highlight low, medium and high levels of sugar, fat, salt, saturated fats and calories in each product.

In addition, it also includes the precise amount of each nutrient in grams per serving and the percentage of the guideline daily amount (GDA) this represents.

It is specifically designed to be read and easily understood in under two seconds — the average length of time that many busy customers are prepared to spend reading a label — and will enable customers to see at a glance how best to choose foods which will give them a healthy, balanced diet.

The move is bound to cause a fuss with rival supermarkets who have chosen to adopt either the easy-to-understand traffic light labeling system (Sainsbury) or the more complex GDA labeling system (Tesco and Morrisons), as it demonstrates that customers can have the benefits of both in a clear, simple format.

It will also cause consternation among leading big brand companies who have been reluctant to introduce any system which they feel could highlight the sugar and fat content of their products.

Said ASDA’s chief executive, Andy Bond:

“Our new nutritional labeling system is the common sense solution to something that shoppers can find very confusing. It’ll give our customers the best of both worlds — the simplicity and transparency of the traffic light labeling system, alongside the more detailed GDA information that some customers demand. “An overwhelming majority of our shoppers have told us this is the style of labeling they want to see, so that’s exactly what we’re going to give them.”

The new nutrition labels will be displayed prominently on the front of pack of over 1,000 different ASDA own-label food products.

Packaging is already being re-formatted and the first products bearing the new labels will hit the shelves in September with the project due to be completed by the end of the year.

Commenting on ASDA’s new nutritional labeling, health minister Dawn Primarolo said: “We welcome this move by ASDA. It’s great news for consumers who can find nutrition labeling on food confusing.

We know from research that the traffic light color code is quick and easy for people to use when they shop.

We hope that many more retailers adopt the labeling in the future.”& nbsp; ASDA’s new nutritional labeling system is just the latest in a long list of initiatives the supermarket has launched to help promote a healthy, balanced diet.

A major project to completely remove any artificial colors or flavors, hydrogenated fat or flavor enhancers, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG), from its own-label food and soft drink products will be complete by January 2008.

In addition, the supermarket is replacing Aspartame in low calorie products with Sucralose, a sweetener made from sugar that tastes like sugar.

All ASDA’s own label product ranges will also meet or exceed the Food Standard Agency’s salt targets by the end of the year, more than two years ahead of the 2010 deadline, following the removal of 156 tonnes of salt this year alone.

It is always fascinating for an American to read the direct attacks on competitors so common in the U.K. We think of the Brits as so restrained and stoic — stiff upper lip and all that — but in business they go after each other with a venom we Americans would have trouble mustering.

In any case the focus of this initiative is on six critical categories:

  • sandwiches, wraps & baguettes
  • ready meals & prepped salad meals
  • burgers & sausages
  • pies, pasties & quiches
  • breaded meat, fish and poultry
  • pizza

These categories have been identified by the Food Standards Agency and relate to ready meals and products with multiple ingredients. A “prepped salad” might be a Caesar salad in a plastic tray sealed with fork, a bag of Parmesan cheese and croutons…multiple ingredients.

It appears that in the U.K., there is a big, ongoing debate on food labeling systems. One camp promotes the traffic light system — red, yellow and green — and the other promotes a sort of percentage of daily requirements label.

ASDA has created a hybrid that both has the simplicity and the immediacy of the traffic light — What’s green eat freely, amber watch out, red eat sparingly — but also includes low, medium and high for levels of sugar, salt, fat, saturated fat, and calories.

Also right in the labeling is a percentage of the guideline’s daily amount.

The Food Standards Agency has done a bunch of TV spots on the traffic-light labels.

Traditionally, we have shied away from the use of traffic lights because the red setting contradicts the nutritionists’ mantra that there are no “bad foods” — and, of course, the problem is rarely the food, per se; it is the portion, the frequency with which it is eaten, the amount of exercise a person gets, etc.

It will be interesting to see if the sales of red items go down. Maybe they won’t be seen as “bad” but as “indulgent” and sales will go up?

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