Activity-based labels are on the move

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

Taking the Pea has introduced activity labels on the back of its packs
Taking the Pea has introduced activity labels on the back of its packs
A proposal to introduce activity-equivalent calorie labels from the Royal Society for Public Health (RSPH), has been met with a cautious welcome from the Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

One snack brand-owner — which launched with the new-style information — predicted that smaller brands in particular could embrace the new system.

Activity-equivalent labelling communicates the calorific value of food or drink in terms of the exercise required to ‘burn off’ those calories.

A year ago, Mike Gallagher launched the Taking the Pea range of flavoured pea-based snacks with his own version of the label back-of-pack. “We came up with examples for a 58kg person, which is the average female weight,”​ he said. “You can’t pigeonhole your customers, and we’re not backing this up with new scientific research or anything. But we try to take a light-hearted or playful tone.”

Combat exercise

he cartoon-based panel focuses on activities such as swimming, cycling, dancing or even combat exercise.

“I have no doubt that we’re going to start seeing more of this type of labelling, especially among the smaller brands,”​ said Gallagher.

He added: “If the consumer education on calories and servings was there, if the brand-owners did their job better in that respect, then this sort of label might not be necessary.”

Meanwhile, the RSPH published a policy paper earlier this year, followed by an opinion piece in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in April, advocating the adoption of activity-based calorie labelling.

Unlike Gallagher, the RSPH envisages this as front-of-pack (FoP) information. It pointed to pre-existing research that indicated consumers spent on average just six seconds looking at packaging before making a purchase.

Just six seconds

Research commissioned by the society suggested that 44% of UK consumers found current FoP information confusing.

“That’s why there’s a need to communicate better in a way that relates to people’s lives,”​ said RSPH spokesman Ed Morrow. “There is a big health inequality issue here. Otherwise, you reinforce the behaviour of those people who are already nutritionally literate, but you do nothing to help those consumers who are not and who need that information most urgently.”

For its part, the FDF said it encouraged any initiative that reinforced “the well-understood calorie message”​, but added that further research was needed to ascertain whether activity-equivalent information was an effective way of promoting healthier lifestyles.

Morrow at the RSPH said: “There is still a lot of technical work to be done at EU level regarding how it might be implemented. But sometimes, EU regulations are held up as a barrier by industry, when often it is a case of ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’.”

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