Chip giant highlights ingredients to stop its products being 'demonised'

As the British market feels the effect of the obesity debate, McCain introduces 'traffic lights' on its food labels
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Frozen food giant McCain is to put "traffic light" labels on its products as part of a £20m campaign aimed at restoring its image amid heightened concern about obesity levels.

The privately owned Canadian group is the biggest chip maker in the world. In its most recent results, published just under a year ago, it revealed that global sales in the year to June 2005 had come in at $5.7bn (£3bn). Products include oven chips, frozen potato "faces" and pizza.

But its UK chief executive, Nick Vermont, said the British market had been affected by the growing debate about obesity.

"We buy 12 per cent of Britain's potato crop and we're here to ensure employment and to make money. We're not ashamed of that. In the last 18 months, the frozen potato market, from a 30- year period of almost constant growth, has stopped growing."

The UK business is therefore looking to improve its reputation and will introduce the Food Standards Agency's recommended traffic light labels, where green indicates healthy levels of ingredients such as fat and salt, and red very high levels. The group will also display recommended daily allowances.

The labelling will appear first on McCain's chip products before being phased in on ranges such as pizzas and toasted sandwiches. A £20m marketing campaign will then be launched, with the slogan "It's All Good" and adverts on television, radio, in the cinema and in newspapers.

"All consumers are confused, particularly ours, about the whole debate that has been ranging - what they should eat, shouldn't be eating, what's good and what's bad," Mr Vermont said. "[This campaign] is about clearing up the confusion, the misconceptions, about our products. Our food has, in effect, been demonised in this debate. Chips are not per se unhealthy."

He was not concerned, he added, about what the labelling might say about his company's products. "A lot of people believe that chips are much higher in fat than they actually are. Every single one of our potato products has a green traffic light for saturated fat. This will be a surprising fact for many people."

The Government has become more concerned over the past two years about the growing rates of obesity, especially among children. Television show's such as Jamie's School Dinners, where celebrity chef Jamie Oliver railed against the poor quality of food available in canteens, hammered home that message.

There has also been concern about how junk food is advertised to children. Media regulator Ofcom, with the backing of the Government, is currently helping to draw up a voluntary code of conduct for advertisers. But only last week, health campaigners called on the Government to ban all junk food advertising before 9pm.

Mr Vermont insisted, however, that McCain's new campaign would not be targeted at children.

"We're not confectionery or ice cream; children don't run down the road to buy oven chips with their pocket money. Mums buy chips and that's who we're advertising to."