The company claims to be the first confectionery firm in the US to voluntarily introduce the Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) nutrition labeling scheme on its products, as part of its health and nutrition program.
It comes after a damning report this month found that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was failing to crack down on false or misleading food labeling and suggested a system similar to GDA.
Mars’ new labels, referred to as "What's Inside", are designed to help consumers quickly and easily locate key nutrition information and make informed choices about their diet.
It uses the GDA graphics that initially appeared in Europe and was developed by The Confederation of Food and Drink Industries of the EU (CIAA). This gives specific amounts of fat, salt and sugar in a product as a percentage of the advised consumption per day and more than 50 manufacturers in the EU are now using GDAs.
Mars said all packages will be redesigned to feature the new graphics on the front and back and this will offer “consumer-friendly, clear and easy to understand nutrition information to help consumers make informed choices at the point of purchase”.
The new labels will begin appearing in December and will be found on all Mars US chocolate, non-chocolate confectionery and other food products by the end of 2010.
Mars said the voluntary initiative was part of a global effort to lead the food industry in creating a “healthier environment”.
Bob Gamgort, president of Mars North America, said: "Our redesigned labels are the latest examples of Mars' commitment to health and nutrition. By providing clear, concise and understandable information to consumers about what's inside all of our products, we will help them to make informed decisions about the foods they eat.
"We make every effort to go beyond what is expected of a global food company."
GDAs feature the calorie totals in large type on the front of the products and highlight more detailed information in an easier-to-read box on the back of the product, including calories, fat, sugar and sodium.
Mars’ own research earlier this year found this style and design to be the clear favorite among consumers, contributing to the best information retention rates.
Meanwhile there is pressure for nutrition labels in the US to be improved. Earlier this month the FDA was criticized by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) watchdog for failing to adequately crack down on false and misleading food labeling.
To make the FDA’s job easier, the GAO recommended a front-of-pack labeling scheme to better convey nutritional information to consumers similar to the GDA scheme voluntarily implemented by sections of the food industry in the UK, the Netherlands and Sweden.
It said the FDA should collaborate “with other federal agencies and stakeholders experienced in nutrition and health issues, to evaluate labeling approaches and options for developing a simplified, empirically valid system that conveys overall nutritional quality to mitigate labels that are misleading to consumers”.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) also petitioned the FDA in 2006 to develop a universal front-of-label system about which the FDA held a public hearing in 2007. But no action has been taken as yet.
Mars global sales are more than $27bn annually. Its confectionery products range from chocolate, gum, mints, hard and chewy candies, with trademarks including M&M's, Snickers and Uncle Ben’s Rice.
The nutrition education initiative is the latest in Mars' commitment to health and nutrition. Other efforts include establishing strict guidelines for marketing to children when, in February 2007, it became the first company to globally announce that it would not directly market snack foods to children under 12 years of age.