The FSA board decided the traffic light system, which colours key nutrients in red, amber and green, was the most useful to consumers. It said a consistent approach to front of pack labelling would help people choose a healthier diet.
Sainsbury's and Waitrose are the first retailers to use the colour-coded approach on products and Asda will follow shortly. But Tesco has adopted the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) system, which avoids using colour-coding foods. Instead, it gives figures for the percentage of a notional guideline daily intake of fat, salt and sugar that each product provides.
A spokesperson for Tesco said research found that traffic light labelling was simplistic and could mislead customers. For example, both cola and apple juice would be colour coded amber for sugar - but this was likely to confuse customers who were choosing between these products, the spokesperson said. "Tesco also found that 'Red' is taken by customers to mean stop/danger rather than warning/consider and could mean that people eliminate certain foods from their diet. Whereas by separating the key nutrients in a simple format the labels help shoppers to monitor parts of the diet that they are concerned about, for example salt, if they have high blood pressure."
Carolyn Bradley, food buying director for Tesco, said; "We have developed our nutritional signposting system with our customers and they are telling us that it works for them. And now that other manufacturers are following our lead even more people will easily be able to make an informed choice on what they and their families eat."
Chairman of the FSA, Deirdre Hutton said: "The evidence of buying patterns is that people are looking for healthier foods and they have told us that traffic light colours are key to helping them understand and use front of pack food labels."
The FSA said the four core principles recommended by the board had been developed as a result of extensive consumer research and feedback from supermarkets, manufacturers, consumer and public health groups.
Marketing director for Waitrose, Christian Cull, said its customers wanted an easy-to-follow, transparent labelling system and its preferred approach was the FSA's traffic light system. He said it also allowed enough room on the back of the pack for all information on GDA that customers had come to expect.
Sainsbury's Chief Executive, Justin King, said: "We support the use of a labelling system which uses traffic light colours. It is the simplest and clearest way of giving customers what they are looking for."
Sue Malcolm, Asda's nutrition manager, said: "We see this as a combination of colour coding coupled to percentage GDA declarations and will be working closely with the FSA and other bodies to make this happen."