Leading retailers set to test environmental labels, as IGD mobilises industry to develop harmonised solution

Four retailers – Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco – will be trialling environmental labels in a virtual reality setting this summer, as the food industry moves one step closer to developing a harmonised environmental labelling scheme.

The trials are the latest phase of a workstream kicked off by IGD at the end of last year, to mobilise the food industry to develop a harmonised solution to environmental labelling. In this, IGD has been supported by a steering group of senior industry representatives, Defra and WRAP, as well as drawing on the expertise of technical consultants Anthesis.

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. This summer, the workstream will enter its next phase as the virtual reality trials get underway, to test consumer understanding of environmental labelling.

Susan Barratt, IGD CEO, says: “We recognise there is a growing appetite from all parts of the food system to measure and communicate the environmental impact of individual products, to drive positive change in consumption habits. We also know there is a real desire for collaboration, to champion a science-based approach to environmental labelling supported by robust consumer insights. We have been working in close partnership with senior industry representatives, NGOs and technical experts over the last few months to develop an environmental labelling framework; seeing this workstream now move into the trial phase is an exciting next step.”

Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco will be testing the prototype labels, initially in a virtual reality environment, to see how customers respond, before looking to implement in-store. Recent customers from each retailer will be invited to shop a virtual store, recreated using specialist software, through an online survey.

The virtual trials will be used to evaluate consumer awareness and understanding of the environmental label. They will also evaluate the impact of point-of-sale (POS) communications and how to optimise them.

The workstream is underpinned by rigorous consumer research, conducted by Walnut Unlimited, the first phase of which started in January 2022 to test and inform the labelling framework. Phase two of the consumer research is currently underway, to test and inform the label design. The third phase will take place this summer through the trials themselves.

Susan Barratt adds: “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.”

With its ambition to deliver positive social impact in partnership with industry, IGD already has a rich heritage in bringing industry together to tackle the issues that matter most to society. This workstream builds on IGD’s experience in nutritional labelling, where the organisation has previously led a joined-up industry approach to make it easier for consumers to use and understand nutrition labels and to enable them to draw comparisons between products in a consistent way*.

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