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Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco to use virtual reality to test new environmental labelling

Image courtesy of the Co-op

Leading supermarkets are using virtual reality (VR) to trial environmental labels as the food industry moves towards developing a harmonised scheme.

Co-op, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco will be trialling new label formats over the summer. Recent customers from each retailer will be invited to shop in a virtual store and to share their responses. The trial will be used to assess consumer awareness and how easy the environmental label is to understand. They will also look at how information is communicated at the point of sale.

The work is being led by grocery analyst the IGD, which aims to mobilise the food industry to support a single scheme. It is being supported by a steering group of senior industry representatives who range from the retailers taking part to M&S and Nestlé, Defra, WRAP and draws on the expertise of technical consultants Anthesis. 

IGD chief executive Susan Barratt says: “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.” 

The first phase of the research started in January 2022, under the auspices of Walnut Unlimted, to test and inform the labelling framework – such as which environmental measures should be included. Consumer research into how the labels should be designed is underway, while the designs produced will be tested in this summer’s VR trials. 

Barratt 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.”

IGD shopper insight research suggests that eight in 10 UK shoppers recognise on-pack colours as a way to compare products or make healthier choices, while the same proportion can interpret nutrition labels on the front of packs. 

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