Upper Austria: Clear food labelling: the keyhole model

Civilisation diseases like heart attack, stroke or overweight are on the rise. More and more consumers therefore want a healthy and well-balanced diet. Even if detailed nutrition information can be found on food packaging, this is rarely read according to a survey conducted on behalf of the Chamber of Labour of Upper Austria. The reasons are lack of time while purchasing, convenience and problems in understanding and interpreting the information provided.


In Sweden and subsequently also in other Scandinavian countries, a positive labelling system for food - referred to as “keyhole” - was already developed very successfully 25 years ago. Food products bearing a green keyhole symbol contain less fat, sugar and salt. Moreover, they have a more favourable fat composition and contain more fibres and whole grain as other products of their category. This way, consumers can see at first glance whether a product contributes to a healthy diet or not – according to the central idea of the symbol “Healthy choices made easy”.


The NFA, the Swedish authority for food and drinking water, developed its own assessment criteria for 33 groups of products. These include milk and dairy products, meat and meat products, margarine and spreads, wheat products such as bread and breakfast cereals as well as convenience food (e.g. pizza or soups). The requirements vary according to the group of products. For example spreads may contain more fat than dairy products.


The Chamber of Labour of Upper Austria has launched a bachelor theses at the Free School for Healthcare Professions of Upper Austria – Dietology Degree in Linz in order to analyse whether this kind of labelling of healthy food products can also be established in Austria.


The study shows that the keyhole label that can already be found on about 2000 products in Scandinavia would also be of great benefit for Austrian consumers. In addition, 26 breakfast cereals and mueslis offered by different manufacturers in supermarkets in Linz and the surrounding area have been evaluated on the basis of the corresponding assessment criteria of the Keyhole Nutrition Label. Only 3 products of the sampling survey (the Basis Müsli from Echt B!o., the Basismüsli from Ja! Natürlich and Weetabix original) comply with the severe nutrition requirements and could carry the green positive label.


Each company complying with these criteria could label its products with the symbol. Use of the label is free. Public health authorities monitor compliance with the requirements.


Consumer research has shown that buyers profit from targeted and reduced information. All products with the keyhole symbol are regarded as healthy according to nutrition science. So, consumers do not even have to judge by themselves which healthy alternative they choose.


Moreover, the keyhole symbol could also be an incentive for producers to develop healthy food products and to optimise existing recipes in order to meet the criteria for the keyhole label.