A sensible consensus is a must on the UK's proposed health labelling scheme for food packaging, argues Alcan Packaging Europe's marketing and communications manager, Kath Atikinson.

As legislation affects more and more areas of business, the packaging industry is the latest to feel its effects. The Food Standards Agency's proposed traffic light labelling system has spurred ongoing debate amongst the grocery trade and manufacturers regarding alternative design formats, and consideration really should be give to how such changes will affect food packaging and its current use within brand promotion. Ultimately, we should be asking: What will such legislation do to brands?

With most brand owners currently leveraging the promotional properties of packaging and utilising it as a sales driver, such legislation could prove critical to brand success. While subtle or cleverly applied labelling of health advantages can prompt consumer selection and offer a point of differentiation, confused messaging and inconsistent signage could prove detrimental to some brands.

Mixed messages around what consumers should look out for on pack and varying symbols and colour codes could, if we're not careful, act as barriers to consumers rather than benefits, causing confusion and potentially restricting selection if purchasers don't understand what the labelling means.

As well as the effect such confused messaging my have on a brand and the way consumers perceive it, further threats lie in just how far such legislation is likely to develop. Should legislation around food labelling and content warnings escalate, following in the footsteps of the tobacco industry, brand owners could soon find they have lost a valuable marketing tool - namely their point of sale promotion.

As the tobacco industry has demonstrated, such labelling requirements have the potential to spiral considerably. If nutritional information becomes a required percentage of a pack's design, on-shelf differentiation will become increasingly difficult to establish. Brand owners will need to look at alternative and often more costly, promotional solutions to keep their brand at the forefront of the consumer's mind.

It is important that a single consumer-friendly standard is agreed upon amicable that also leaves room for brand messaging. The grocery sector and brand owners need to work with the Food Standards Agency, rather than generating resistance, to agree on something that works for everyone. Otherwise brand owners may find themselves at the mercy of government legislation - and suffering as a result.

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