Could applying the 'traffic light' labels on receipts be applied to the consumer's entire shop to help them eat better? A new proposal put forward in the UK thinks so! The widely adopted ‘traffic light’ system that has been used on food and drinks packaging since 2013 is looking to make the jump from packaging to receipts.

“Instinctively, it seems like a good idea,” said Ed Morrow, campaigns manager at the Royal Society for Public Health. “If health information is just on the product, it’s easy to ignore, but if consumers get another reminder at the till, they may start to compare receipts, seeing what they scored each time, then try to do better. Doing things that gamify the experience of shopping can be a good motivator in terms of changing behaviour.”

Morrow went on to say that it isn’t designed to tell people what to do, rather provide consumers with extra information. Receipts are a reliable indicator of a person’s dietary habits over time according to a health expert who is working alongside Hayden Peek, the creative designer of the idea. Similar to labelling in supermarkets and on menus, the receipt could in time, help consumers make healthier choices.

The question is whether labelling actually works, with research showing that consumers spend just seconds looking at a product before deciding on their purchase. Consumers also can find labels confusing and overwhelming.

“Labelling is not the solution to the obesity crisis,” said Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, an independent think tank that tackles the growing challenges facing the UK’s food system through the interests of the UK public.

“But what’s important about the traffic lights system is it encourages businesses to reformulate because they don’t want to have a product with lots of reds.”

Morrow believes that the traffic light system allows information to be accessible to all, not just those who are nutritionally literate.

“What would be really interesting is if the retailers link it to algorithms set up for loyalty cards for those who want it. So, if a till receipt shows lots of reds, you might get vouchers to buy more veg. That’s when it could start to get really powerful,” said Morrow.