Unilever's expanding Choices draws criticism

Anglo-Dutch consumer products giant Unilever is expanding its Choices labelling scheme into global markets despite criticism that the initiative confuses consumers.

Unilever noted that the campaign has already launched in the Netherlands and the US. "The plan is to roll it out globally," company officials said. Unilever plans to introduce the scheme in the UK in 2007 and all regions where it operates by the end of 2008.

"The aim of the label is to make it easier for consumers to choose healthy foods," the company said. "The logo is only used on products that meet certain health standards. These guidelines are based on WTO [World Trade Organisation] health and nutrition standards."

Vindi Banga, president of foods at Unilever, said the system will make nutrition information more meaningful and accessible "regardless of geography or product category." About 250 Unilever products will carry the mark in the UK — or about two-thirds of its offerings there.

The scheme has drawn criticism from Sustain, a UK-based campaigner for better foods and farming. The group slated the scheme as "wholly unsatisfactory" and said, "It is deeply disappointing and another example of the food industry stepping short of the mark." Sustain believes the scheme does not go far enough in presenting clear information that signposts the most and least nutritious foods.

Unilever is one of many major food firms to shun the UK Food Standards Agency's recommendation to adopt a traffic-light system to label foods.

In Australia, a Per Cent Daily Intake labelling system backed by companies including Kraft, MasterFoods, Cadbury Schweppes, Unilever, Campbell Arnotts, Nestle, Kellogg, Coca-Cola Australia, PepsiCo Australia, George Weston, Golden Circle and National Foods Ltd, has drawn government criticism. "There are many ways this information can be presented but consumers find it difficult to deal with too many different labelling formats," Agriculture Minister Peter McGauran said. "The industry is working to avoid the confusion that has occurred in the UK and Europe, as a result of consumers being confronted with as many as 28 different logos and formats."

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