The Nutri-Score label is helping consumers make nutritious choices when filling their shopping baskets, and encouraging food producers to improve the nutritional value of their products. But what is Nutri-Score? How was it developed and how is the score calculated? Pauline Ducrot from Santé publique France, the French national public health agency, explains the history and future of this initiative, which is quickly spreading across Europe.
By Pauline Ducrot
What is Nutri-Score?
Nutri-Score is a nutritional label based on a five-colour coded scale going from dark green to dark orange, associated with letters from A to E. Dark green and the letter A is attached to products with the best nutritional quality, while dark orange and the letter E is attached to products with the lowest nutritional quality. Nutri-Score equips consumers with information about the general nutritional quality of products on the front of packaging. The underlying nutritional scoring method was developed by the British Food Standard Agency and is known as the ‘FSA score’. This score, which goes from -15 to 40, allows us to evaluate the overall nutritional quality of food. Based on 100g of product, it incorporates unfavourable factors such as calories (kj), saturated fatty acids (g), sugars (g), and sodium (mg); and favourable factors such as protein (g) fibre (g), and fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and olive, nut, and colza oils (%).
There are two objectives when using Nutri-Score: supporting consumers, and encouraging the improvement of products. By giving access to information and helping people to compare products at a glance, consumers are pointed towards products with the best nutritional quality. At the same time, producers are encouraged to improve the quality of their products through reformulation and innovation.
A solid scientific base
Nutri-Score (or 5-colour label in the initial conception of the idea) was proposed based on scientific knowledge in the field, and the recommendations of different international committees of experts. Both the symbol and the system of calculation have undergone rigorous scientific evaluation.
The compatibility of the FSA score with French nutritional recommendations was validated (1-3), and different studies have evaluated the prospective relationships between the FSA score and indicators of health (i.e. Body Mass Index (BMI)), chronic diseases (i.e. cancer) and even the risks of mortality associated with them. (4-10)
The effectiveness of Nutri-Score has also been positively evaluated in studies assessing perception and comprehension (11-16), and on the impact of food choices. (17-20)
Take-up in France
The idea of a nutritional label on the front of packaging was proposed back in 2014 by professor Hercberg in a report for the Ministry of health which proposed several measures to bring new momentum to nutritional policy in France.
In January 2016, the proposition was taken up and integrated into the French act on modernising the health system. In order to select the label that would be officially supported by the public authorities, a randomised control trial comparing four labels was conducted in real-world conditions. The Nutri-Score label proved to be the most effective in improving the quality of people’s shopping carts. It was therefore selected as the official label with an official decree signed on 31st October 2017 by the Minister of solidarity and health, the Minister of agriculture, and the secretary of state to the Minister of economy and finance.
The use of the Nutri-Score label is still voluntary. Now two years after its launch, 250 brands are engaged in France – representing 25% of the French market.
The deployment of Nutri-Score on supermarket aisles and in ‘click and collect’ services has contributed greatly to consumers’ awareness of the label. In May 2019, 81% of consumers said they recognised Nutri-Score. The wider deployment also translates into an increase in the number of people who have purchased a product with Nutri-Score: 4 in 10 French people said they have already bought a product with the label.
Launch across Europe
Following France, several European countries have joined the movement: Belgium in March 2019, Switzerland and Germany in September 2019, and the Netherlands in November 2019. In addition, Nutri-Score is being used by some supermarket brands, such as Auchan in Portugal and Eroski in Spain. In fact, as the label has been registered as a trade-mark in Europe, it can be used across the territory.
In the interest of transparency towards consumers and coherence on the European market, France hopes that Nutri-Score will become obligatory in Europe. That’s the objective of the new initiative ‘pro Nutri-Score’ which was launched in May 2019 by seven consumer organisations. They aim to raise a million signatures from at least seven European Countries – if they are successful, this proposition will be evaluated by the European Commission.
To sign the initiative petition, visit eci.ec.europa.eu/009/public/#/initiative
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- Julia C, Kesse-Guyot E, Ducrot P, Peneau S, Touvier M, Mejean C, et al. Performance of a five category front-of-pack labelling system – the 5-colour nutrition label – to differentiate nutritional quality of breakfast cereals in France. BMC public health. 2015;15:179.
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