Cadbury and Masterfoods UK will add health guidance to all confectionery products in a bid to stave off anti-obesity legislation on labelling.
The new labelling forms part of the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionery Association's (BCCCA) 'Be Treatwise' campaign.
The National Consumer Council (NCC) in the UK has dismissed the industry's decision to introduce the guidance as a cynical move that only confuse the public.
"The NCC thinks the labelling of products under the new Treatwise scheme launched by the BCCCA is confusing to consumers," said Michael Williams a spokesperson for the organisation. "NCC regards the move as a cynical move by companies to pre-empt the Food Standards Agency's well researched front of pack signposting, which is under public consultation."
The industry's voluntary labelling changes will be phased in on products over the next six months.
The campaign, launched this weekend, intends to educate consumers to eat sweets responsibly as part of a balanced diet.
The 'Be Treatwise' message will be displayed on participating company's products and focuses around a website where consumers can find out more about healthy eating.
Obesity is an increasing problem in Britain with record numbers of both young and old people being classes as overweight.
The most recent figures from the UK's Department of Health indicate that 59 percent of women in England and 66 percent of men were overweight or obese in 2003.
The move by the confectionery industry coincides with increasing pressure on governments to legislate with stricter labelling requirements and health warnings.
BCCCA's voluntary campaign, which is being adopted by Cadbury and Masterfoods UK, follows Nestle's announcement to introduce new labelling earlier this year.
Nestle was first to decided to self-regulate its confectionery packaging by introducing a calorie count and the government's guideline daily amount (GDA) information to its packaging.
Nestle's campaign will be phased in through the year.
As well as aligning itself with the BCCCA's Treatwise campaign Cadbury will also add information to its labelling regarding GDA's.
Cadbury spokesperson Tony Bilsborough told ConfectioneryNews.com the labelling was helpful advice rather than a health warning.
"These messages are not health warnings but extra advice," he said. "Consumers are becoming more and more interested in labelling and what information is put on our packs." Cadbury's products will gradually adopt the new labelling over the first half of the year, he said.
In addition to the 'Be Treatwise' message Cadbury's labelling will also carry:
- The GDA icon will be on the front of the packaging, with the recommended amounts per nutrient on the reverse.
- The individual content of the top five nutrients, calories, fat, saturated fat, salt and total sugars.
- The percentage contributed by the individual product to the overall GDA.
- A message encouraging an active lifestyle and the need for a balanced diet in line with the department of health's advice.
- A link to the "Be Treatwise" website, www.betreatwise.org.uk.
- And an improved nutritional panel that's colour coded, aimed at being easier to read.
Whether or not these self-imposed measures will have any effect on the FSA's legistlation is as yet unclear, however confectionery companies are not the first to make attempts at forestalling potential government measures.
Food manufacturers and retailers, along with the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD), issued a voluntary code of GDAs last November in an attempt to pre-empt moves by the Food Standards Agency to impose a rule on health labelling.
The FSA is currently exploring healthy labelling options aimed at reducing the number of people becoming overweight including a traffic light system.
The traffic light scheme, which is currently voluntary, is designed to provide at-a-glance information on whether a food is high, medium or low in total fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.
With obesity worries seemingly high on the FSA's agenda compulsory legislation such as rules banning confectioners from advertising to children appears likely.
The European Commission says that 14 million Europeans are now obese or overweight, of which more than 3 million are children.