The Nutri-score food labeling explained
Originally developed in France, the Nutri-score food labeling system indicates the nutritional quality of each product. The labeling system aims to promote healthier eating habits among the population and encourage entrepreneurs to innovate their food lines by adding more healthy ingredients. Although many people find the label useful, there are a lot of drawbacks with the actual method of calculation of nutrients, some food brands actually exploit the system by branding junk foods as healthy.
The Nuri-score label: uses and meaning
The Nutri-score food labeling system categorizes ingredients of products into healthy and unhealthy. Sugar, sodium, and saturated fat fall into the category of unhealthy ingredients, and fiber is considered the most healthy one. In other words, the more sugar and salt a product contains, the more unhealthy it is.
To visualize the nutritional quality of a product, brands use an easily readable label, placed at the front of the package. On the Nutri-score label, 5 different colors from green to red and 5 letters from A to E are used to clearly indicate in which category the product belongs. Letter A and green color mean a natural and healthy product containing less sugar and mostly no salt. Letter E and red, on the contrary, mean that the product belongs to the junk food bracket.
The Nutri-score label on products is very similar to grades in school, so let’s look at it as the grades we got in high school. The calculation of the label takes into consideration the amount of all essential ingredients (salt, sugar, fiber, and fat) in 100g of a given product. However, none of the additives in the product, such as vitamins, minerals, or artificial ingredients, are calculated and stated on the label.
Benefits of the Nutri-score food labeling system
The Nutri-score labeling system benefits both consumers and manufacturers. No matter the advantages of this visualization, many producers find ways to cheat the labeling system and brand junk food as healthy products with marks A or B. But before I explain the controversy around the label, let’s first look at its numerous benefits.
Most people state that the label is very clear and visible, so it helped them to choose healthier nutrition. When strolling through the supermarkets’ aisles, we simply can’t overlook the Nutri-score label. And since everything is visible, most people will spend much less time shopping while making a well-informed choice of healthy foods to add to their shopping basket.
For food producers
The Nutri-score label also benefits food manufacturers, triggering industry innovations in the choice of food ingredients and processing methods. Many companies rely on the label in their branding strategies, striving to improve the quality of their current products or offer a completely new line. Industry innovation is a great benefit on narrow and broader scales – for consumers, businesses and governments.
Drawbacks of the Nutri-score food labeling system?
Except for the many fans of the Nutri-score label, there are quite a lot of people who are actually opposing it, especially after the proposal of making the labeling system universal across Europe. YouTube video channels, activist groups and communities oppose the Nutri-score system and demand a better FOP (front of packaging label), or a more fair nutritional label in Europe.
In this light, American food manufacturers also use a couple of nutritional labels, but it is not mandatory for food producers to use a unified FOP. Generally, many food brands use a nutritional label stuck at the back of the package. Some companies, branding their products as “Bio”, use a special nutritional FOP label as a method to attract more consumers to their specific niche.
Supporter of the Mediterranean and Keto diets recently slammed the Nutri-score label. According to the label, most of the foods that are part of these diets such as dairy products and meat get a very bad nutritional score of D or E. According to supporters of the Mediterranean diet, these products aren’t unhealthy just because they contain less fiber.
The main drawback of the Nutri-score labeling is that it doesn’t calculate the additives in each products. In fact, many products from the D category contain essential vitamins and minerals that are completely overlooked. Fairly, vitamins and minerals are a very important part of nutrition and eating regimens, so most people will consider the amounts of vitamins in given product first.
According to evidence, some food producers actually exploit the Nutri-score system to brand junk food as healthy. For example, Cola Zero gets score B since it contains artificial sweeteners but no actual sugar. However, olive oil, which is otherwise considered a healthy elixir, gets score D or even E. Also, french fries produced with less fat usually get score B or C on their Nutri-score label.
For food producers
Not only consumers but also producers face difficulties with the Nutri-score system. It’s a fact that new labeling is costly, and a unified Nutri-score system across Europe will increase the production costs for food manufacturers. Smaller food brands, producing actually healthy products, may not be able to keep up with the new regulations.
What countries use the Nutri-score system?
France implemented the Nutri-score label first in 2017. Since then, a couple of countries adopted the FOP label, with only minor differences in the design. At the moment Belgium, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and Luxembourg use the Nutri-score label.
While the label is not mandatory, many food producers in France use the FOP as a branding strategy and comply with the recommendations. By simple look at Carrefour online supermarket, almost all the offerings contain Nutri-score label. In other countries such as Germany and the Netherlands, the Nutri-score is the preferred FOP.
According to recent discussions, other European countries will implement the FOP label as well. Since many European consumers already accepted the label, it will easily spread around European markets. On the food producers’ side, however, a mandatory FOP may pose a lot of difficulties related to packaging costs.