Three things to know about front of pack nutrition labels in the UK

Date : 18 January 2021

Hannah Skeggs

Nutrition & Scientific Affairs Manager

The outbreak of COVID-19 has been one of the biggest public health challenges ever faced. Despite the challenges of COVID-19, big changes in shopper behaviour and range consolidation meant the retail food and drink market actually grew in 2020 while foodservice sales declined. How could this impact front of pack (FOP) nutrition labels?


1. FOP Nutrition labelling is under review

Front of pack nutrition labels or ‘traffic light labels’ have existed in the UK for almost fifteen years. They were first recommended by the Food Standards Agency in 2007 and guidance on implementing the current scheme was published by Department of Health and Social Care seven years ago. These labels now feature on approximately two thirds of pre-packaged food and drink products and help many consumers to make healthy choices1.

Since 2014, UK nutrition labelling has been aligned with the EU food information to consumers regulation. Now, following EU Exit, the UK Government has announced that it seeks to build on the success of FOP nutrition labelling by reviewing its effectiveness and exploring alternative schemes.

To do this, the UK Government and devolved administrations launched a public consultation in 20202 to explore opportunities for labelling. There has been particular focus on how the current scheme could be improved, on labelling schemes from other countries, and how changing labels could be a driver or barrier to international trade. The response is expected to be published later this year.

2. Shopper habits are evolving, meaning fewer use labels

Covid-19 has impacted the way we shop, cook and eat. Nutrition and health remain important to shoppers, with nearly 9 in 10 shoppers trying to improve their diets3 but we have found that individual health and wellness priorities are evolving during the pandemic.

Interestingly despite health remaining high on the agenda, our annual tracking has shown fewer shoppers are using FOP labels (54% vs 58% Nov’19) to help them make healthy choices4.

Here are three key factors that may have led to this decline;

  • Focus on time saving - With stores changing their opening hours and social distancing guidelines in-store, shoppers began to prioritise time saving when it comes to choosing where to shop – 35% chose a store as it was quicker and easier in April’20, up from 27% in January’205.
  • Focus on choice and availability - The national lockdown last March resulted in initial shortages of supply to cope with the elevated demand. This resulted in choice and availability becoming more important in driving store choice (37% April’20 vs 31% April’19)5 and purchasing.
  • Focus on online -There has been a large increased use of online shopping with 59% shopping online in December 2020, up from 42% in December 2019. Use of FOP information is likely to be lower online with shoppers spending less time shopping online than in-store and some sites not displaying FOP information6.

3. Comprehension of labels remains high

Although shoppers are using labels less, there has been little change in comprehension compared to last year.

Understanding increases with use and around 3 in 4 (77%) know colour coding can be used to compare products to make healthier choices.

One area of concern is shoppers misinterpreting portion size – 1 in 4 people surveyed misunderstood this information on pack.

Portion size is very important as the information provided on a nutrition label applies only to the recommended portion of the product. Eating more than the recommended portion will lead to additional calories being consumed and over time can contribute to weight gain.

In the UK three in ten adults are now obese and people living with obesity are more than 50% more likely to die from COVID-19. IGD has resources on how to best present information on communicating portion size to consumers available here.

To learn more about how shoppers’ use of nutrition labels is evolving, download our free shopper insight report.


  1. Diabetes UK. (2018). Public views on food labelling survey. ComRes interviewed 2,121 UK adults online, aged 18+ between 12-14th Jan 2018.
  2. DHSC, 2020. Building on the success of front-of pack nutrition labelling in the UK: a public consultation. Available here
  3. IGD ShopperVista, 2020. Health, nutrition and ethics. Available here
  4. IGD, Nov 2020. Shopper insights: FOP Nutrition labels. Available here
  5. IGD ShopperVista: Shopper tends – how 2020 compares to 2008. Available here
  6. IGD ShopperVista – ShopperVista update. Available here