HomeMarketsThe nutritional quality of foods after seven years of Nutri-Score 

The nutritional quality of foods after seven years of Nutri-Score 

Seven years after the introduction of the Nutri-Score in France, a study (Bauner and Rahman, 2024) examines the effects of front of pack nutritional labeling (FoPNL) on the nutritional reformulation of foods. (1)

A systematic review

At the end of the treatment of the University of Massachusetts, in the United States, compare the change in the nutritional profile of foods placed on the market from 2014 (three years before the debut of the more well-known FoPNL label) to 2021 in France with those introduced on the market in Italy and the United Kingdom, where the Nutri-Score has not yet been adopted.

A systematic review includes three categories of products - very widespread everywhere and highly processed, therefore improvable - sampled in the three countries. All in all:

  • 3.113 breakfast cereals,
  • 602 popcorn,
  • 2.120 potato-based snacks.

The sample does not include products that do not indicate the amount of dietary fiber on the label. The lack of this information, which is still optional in the EU, does not allow the nutritional profiles of foods to be appropriately assessed.

A disadvantaged start

The analysis highlights a significant improvement in the Nutri-Score scores of French products. Gradually, after the introduction of nutritional labeling on the front of the package, the industry has reduced the ingredients unfavorable for health.

French productsFurthermore, they started from a disadvantaged position. Before 2018, on average, breakfast cereals and popcorn were much less healthy than those in Italy and the UK. Italy was always the most virtuous, except for potato-based snacks, for which it was in last place.

The Nutri-Score effect in France

After 2018, with the introduction of the Nutri-Score (still on a voluntary basis and present on approximately half of the products) the scenario changes. France records the most dynamic improvements in Nutri-Score:

– on breakfast cereals reaches the nutritional quality of Italy. However, the most virtuous country is the United Kingdom. Without substantial changes in energy and saturated fat, French products contain less sugar and sodium and more fiber and protein. On this food, UFC-Que Choisir had already demonstrated that in just 7 years, between 2015 and 2022, in France the share of products with NutriScore A and B has almost quintupled (from 8% to 38%). (2)

– on popcorn improves, with reductions in energy, sugar and sodium, but only compared to British levels. Italy confirms itself as the most virtuous, leaving the other two countries far behind,

– on potato-based snacks the changes are less significant, but France leads the way. British production follows closely behind. Italy, however, is very bad. (3)

Strategies for earning a letter

At the end of the treatment They also assessed the extent of food reformulation to understand whether the industry pushes nutritional improvement just below the threshold to earn a position in the Nutri-Score's five-letter rating. (4) A sort of greenwashing, however positive in the context.

The phenomenon is confirmed. The number of products with borderline classification is growing in two food categories:

– for breakfast cereals, the products at the limit between A and B, and B and C increase,

– for popcorn those classified at the limit between A and B, B and C and C and D grow.

No evidenceinstead, for potato snacks.

Nutri-Score, an advantage for those who consume and those who produce

Overall, the study suggests that manufacturers of the analyzed food categories are willing to improve the Nutri-Score. In some cases there may be a genuine desire to improve the healthiness of your products. However, the increase in borderline scores seems to indicate that market positioning is the first real motivation for the reformulations.

Consumer preference for more balanced foods it is moreover marked. And if the Nutri-Score affects demand, supply has no choice but to adjust. This is, in fact, the great value of nutritional labeling on the front of the package. Namely the Nutri-Score, the most widespread system and judged most effective by the scientific community. (5,6) Also adopted in Portugal since April. (7)

Marta Strinati

Footnotes

(1) Christoph Bauner and Rajib Rahman. The effect of front-of-package nutrition labeling on product composition. European Review of Agricultural Economics. Vol 00 (00) (2024) pp. 1-24. February 2024 doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/erae/jbae004

(2) Dario Dongo. NutriScore, full marks to local products. And the quality of food improves. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(3) Dario Dongo. Indulgent foods or junk food? The case of French fries. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(4) Dario Dongo. NutriScore, we help consumers choose balanced foods! Petition. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(5) Marta Strinati. NutriScore and three other nutritional labels compared. OECD study. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(6) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. NutriScore, a report by 320 scientists to urge the European Commission. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(7) See Despacho n.º 3637/2024, of 4 April. Implementation of the Nutri-Score system as a public health promotion for healthy food promotion. https://diariodarepublica.pt/dr/detalhe/despacho/3637-2024-859190971

Marta Strinati

Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".

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