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Many consumers find traffic lights confusing, survey finds

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 15-Oct-2012

Nearly a fifth of UK consumers find traffic light nutrition labelling too difficult to understand, according to a new survey from market research organisation Canadean.

Canadean Consumer surveyed 2,200 UK consumers about their understanding of traffic light labelling – the nutrition labelling scheme that uses red, amber and green colours to indicate levels of fat, salt, sugars, saturated fat and calories in foods.

It found that 19% of respondents thought traffic light labels were confusing, and 15% said they did not understand them at all.

Canadean lead consultant Mark Whalley said that consumers are more interested than ever before in reading labels.

“We want to know what’s in our groceries, and how they’re going to affect our health,” he said. “…Traffic lights were supposed to make this a quicker and easier process, but this research finds that there is some way to go…The assumption that everyone understands traffic lights is wrong. Labelling needs to be clear and informative to reach everybody.”

However, the market researcher found that nearly half of consumers (46%) said they used traffic light nutrition information to help them make purchase decisions, and more than a quarter (29%) said they had decided not to buy a product they had initially intended to buy after looking at the traffic light label.

Nearly three-quarters of survey participants (73%) said they supported a universal labelling system, and 32% said they preferred to buy foods that carried a traffic light label.

“The industry needs to be more open to collaborating on one accepted system. The evidence suggests that this would be in the best interests of consumers, which in turn is in the best interest of the market,” Whalley said.

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