GM own-brand labelling puts packs in spotlight

Last week’s announcement that major food retailers have agreed to label all own-brand products containing genetically-modified soya and maize derivatives will not have an immediate impact on packaging designs. However, some design industry experts believe the move should be used as a marketing tool.

The announcement saw a consortium of major UK and European retailers – including Sainsbury’s, Asda, Safeway, Tesco and Marks & Spencer – agreeing to label all own-brand foods containing GM ingredients, including additives and oils.

The move comes after a Government plan to levy fines of up to 5000 for those failing to list GM ingredients, excluding additives and oils. Retailers say the plans do not go far enough.

The move does not effect proprietary brands as food manufacturers await EU legislation on the issue, expected this summer.

“The impact of the new agreement on own-label packaging design depends on the individual retailers and how they perceive their brands. If they see them as honest and direct they could play it up and it could have quite a big impact, but in other cases the information might be hidden away,” says Orli Lang, Design business development director at Ian Logan. Ian Logan Design has previously worked on packaging projects with Asda.

“The real implications of the move aren’t yet clear, but there are lots of issues and it will be interesting to see how they are developed.

“It’s time for a deep rethink on how to present the brand to the consumer,” adds Lang.

One issue is the phasing out of own-label GM foods altogether. Sainsbury’s estimates it currently has around 1500 own-label products containing GM derivatives, and it plans to phase them out by the summer.

“Because we only do positive labelling the fact that a product doesn’t contain GM ingredients is irrelevant and won’t be printed on the packaging,” says a Sainsbury’s spokeswoman.

Asda is also looking to phase out own-label foods containing GM derivatives and has been labelling the ones that do for around 18 months, as has Safeway since 1996.

But as another senior designer, who did not wish to be named, says: “In some cases it would be a good idea to flash up the GM angle on the packaging in every perceivable way to get on the bandwagon.”

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