SIAL TALKS: Nutri-Score seeing positive outcomes among low-income consumers

July 18, 2023

The European Nutri-Score nutrition label is starting to have significant impact on the behaviour of consumers, according to a speaker at a recent SIAL Talks conference, and simplified nutrition labels are most effective, but labelling needs to appear on all food items.

This is all according to the speaker – Julia Chantal, a professor in nutrition and medical doctor focused on nutrition policies, who said that impact is also being seen among target low-income groups – a new development not seen before in the context of a variety of other nutrition labels around the world that have been studied.

In fact, the Nutri-Score label is now also recognised by 95% of French consumers, having grown from just 42% in 2018. The label has now been adopted in countries throughout Europe, including Belgium and Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Germany, Spain and Switzerland.

Speaking at the SIAL Talks event, Chantal explained how the Nutri-Score label came into being, and came to be written into French law.

She listed three criteria – the first being that the label was easy to understand, particularly for vulnerable groups that do not have the ability or the education to completely understand and transform their food choices based on given information.

In addition, she said the label should appear on all food products, so consumers can make a properly informed choice, with the ability to compare all types of foods.

To watch the full SIAL Talks video, click below.

“If it’s only on a certain percentage of products, it will be easy to completely overlook it,” she said, adding, “if only 20% of foods have the label, how do you take into account the foods that do not have it?”

She went on to say that this was most important because of the voluntary nature of the labelling system – “if a product has a label then it could be that it’s not healthy enough, or that the manufacturer hasn’t asked for it. So it’s more complicated to interpret the absence of the label.”

For the third criteria, Chantal said it was crucial that the Nutri-Score be colour-coded rather than black and white, and with a gradient – A to E.

On the effectiveness of the Nutri-Score since its launch, Chantal explained that when it came to the label, there is “no loss of effectiveness” among low-income groups, when compared to studies of various labelling systems around the world.

“This means that in this case the Nutri-Score has acted as an equitable label welfare example the month when we look at the results for the multiple traffic lights, it is efficient overall, but there is a loss of effectiveness when you look at participants that had lower incomes, meaning that we would potentially leave these people behind if we implemented it, and it could lead to increased inequalities in nutrition and health.

“So, after all these studies, the Nutri score was set into law as the official label for France, and industry went from complete opposition with zero interest in the first time that the Nutri-Score was actually proposed to actually becoming a standard today in 2022.”

“Now, more than 800 industry partners and manufacturers have adopted it and in 2020 it’s the companies that have adopted a Nutri score.”

Since 2021, there has been a call from brands and various organisations, including the European Citizens´ Initiative Forum, to make the label mandatory and to ensure that is harmonised across countries.

Finishing her SIAL Talks conference, Chantal added: “This is supported by scientists and learned societies with a petition that raised more than 417 signatures from scientists and 30 scientific groups that are supporting us. The issue now is the same that has been presented before. It’s the question of how it’s going to go with the ongoing discussion about the Farm to Fork strategy.”

The outcome for this proposed legislation is expected by the end of 2023.

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