Four UK supermarkets to trial environmental labelling system

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AUTHOR: Molly Long
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Customers shopping at Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op will soon be able to better monitor the environmental footprint of their diets.

This summer, the four supermarkets will trial an environmental labelling system which will start first in virtual reality before moving in-store.

Climate-conscious label systems – also known as eco-labelling – have been a topic of discussion within the food industry for some time. In May, the FSA said the need for such a unified system in the UK was “urgent”.

The argument is that by being transparent about the environmental impact of products – taking factors like water, land usage, methane pollution and transport related carbon emissions into consideration – customers can make educated choices and buy food that ultimately contributes less to the climate crisis.

The trials being conducted by Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op are the latest step in a workstream devised by commercial and social insights organisation IGD in a bid to develop a harmonised environmental labelling scheme which the whole food sector can use.

IGD has been working with industry representatives from the likes of 2 Sisters Food Group, Nestlé and Greencore, as well as the supermarkets, Defra and WRAP to devise the system.

“The initial focus of the work has been on developing a strategic framework for an environmental labelling scheme that will provide consistent and transparent information for consumers, enabling them to make more informed choices at point-of-sale, based on credible data and consistent methods for environmental footprinting,” said the company.

The biggest challenge associated with environmental labelling is the information itself – front-of-pack communications offer limited space to convey often very complex data. Consumers need to understand what they’re being told to make an informed decision.

This summer’s virtual reality trials will be used to assess consumer comprehension on the labelling solution. Recent customers from each retailer will be invited to shop a virtual store, recreated using specialist software, through an online survey.

As well as working out just how well consumers actually understand the information put on the label, the trial will also seek to evaluate the impact of point-of-sale communications about the environmental impact of food products and how to optimise them.

Susan Barratt, IGD CEO, said: “Environmental labelling is a very complex area, so the fact we are taking a coordinated approach to drive consensus across the whole sector, with support from leading food companies, is an incredibly important step forward.

“To be successful, any solution needs to be pragmatic, possible for the industry to adopt at scale and able to be used by businesses both large and small. We want to deliver positive, lasting change and look forward to assessing the results of these trials as they progress.”

In April, Denmark announced it would be spending DKK 9M (around £1M) on developing its own climate labelling system to help citizens make more environmentally conscious food choices.

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