Nutrition labelling is key to helping people make more informed choices
Nutrition labelling is a legal requirement for all soft drinks and most other foodstuffs. It has the purpose of helping consumers make better-informed decisions by providing information about the nutritional composition of the food and drinks to encourage them towards more balanced diets.
Nutrition labelling also plays an important role in incentivising food and beverage companies to improve the nutritional content of their products and to provide healthier choices to consumers through reformulation efforts.
Back-of-pack and front-of-pack nutrition information in the EU
In 2014, the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation 1169/2011 made ‘back-of-pack’ nutrition information mandatory per 100ml and per serving, with a minimum font size and in tabular form.
Unlike ‘back-of-pack’ nutrition labelling, front-of-pack nutrition information is not compulsory in the EU. Nevertheless, since 2008, Europe’s soft drinks producers were global pioneers in voluntarily rolling out sector-wide full ‘Guideline Daily Amount’* nutrition labelling front-of-pack to inform consumers about the nutritional composition of the drinks they choose (including sugars) in order to make balanced choices.
Europe’s soft drinks industry also indicates prominently on-pack when products are low- or no-calorie/sugar, in line with the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (1924/2006).
*Guideline Daily Amount labelling (also sometimes referred to as ‘Reference Intake’ labelling) on soft drinks includes the amount of calories and sugars provided per serving and per 100ml as a percentage of the independently assessed ‘Guideline Daily Amounts’ for an average person for calories and sugar.
Towards an EU mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme
As part of its Farm to Fork Strategy, the European Commission plans to propose an EU-wide, harmonised, mandatory front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme by the end of 2022.
UNESDA fully supports the European Commission’s ambition. We advocate for an EU-wide, harmonised, interpretative, and evidence-based front-of-pack nutrition labelling scheme that, above all else, is meaningful to consumers, encourages food producers to reformulate and is aligned with EU legislation (such as the EU Food Information to Consumers Regulation and the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation).
Let’s take a look at Nutri-Score – one of the front-of-pack nutrition labelling schemes currently used in the EU
Nutri-Score is based on a five-colour-code scheme that assigns a score on nutritional quality – ranging from A to E. Nutri-Score has already been implemented by several EU Member States on a voluntary basis.
Currently, an International Scientific Committee on Nutri-Score, composed of national representatives from the countries that have (pledged to) or adopt(ed) the Nutri-Score scheme, is assessing Nutri-Score’s principles and calculation basis and also reviewing requests for changing the algorithm to ensure its efficient implementation. The International Scientific Committee published a report in July 2022 setting out its recommendations for adapting the algorithm for various nutrients and foodstuffs. In late 2022, it plans to publish its recommendations with regard to adapting the specific algorithm for beverages.
The case of the Nutri-Score scheme for beverages: Why it should be improved and how
UNESDA conducted an in-depth technical and scientific review of the Nutri-Score algorithm for beverages, in partnership with French public health consultancy, LinkUp Factory. The conclusion was that the Nutri-Score scheme for beverages is not fully optimised to meet its main public health objectives: to provide clear consumer information and to stimulate further sugar reduction and product innovations from industry to widen consumer choice of beverages containing less or no sugar.
The analysis of the current Nutri-Score scheme for beverages in three markets (France, Spain, Belgium) showed:
- A misalignment between Nutri-Score and the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, resulting in contradictory on-pack messages for the consumer and potential confusion. For example, a product with a “low energy” claim is assigned a ‘D’ ranking according to the current Nutri-Score algorithm, giving consumers conflicting messages on the same product.
- An imbalance in the distribution of products within the same category, in this case soft drinks, across the Nutri-Score scale (i.e. A-E rankings, with A being the highest ranking). As a result, consumers are not provided with the appropriate information to select the soft drink containing less sugar. This is particularly striking for France, where more than 80% of soft drinks are ranked D or E even with an extremely wide variation in sugar content.
- The current Nutri-Score scheme does not incentivise soft drinks producers to reformulate and pursue improved rankings of B or C even with reformulations as high as 50%. Once a soft drink exceeds 0 grams of sugar, it is immediately given a C ranking, even for a sugar content as low as 0.1 grams. This is not the same approach as applied to foods and does not provide consumers with the appropriate information to choose the soft drink with less sugar.
See here a few examples from 2021 illustrating why UNESDA proposes an optimised Nutri-Score scheme for beverages.
Note: The A ranking does not apply for soft drinks as it has been allocated to water only in the current Nutri-Score algorithm for beverages.
With this in mind, UNESDA submitted a report, proposing slight adaptations to the Nutri-Score scheme for beverages, to the International Steering Committee on Nutri-Score, which accepted UNESDA’s application and forwarded it to the Scientific Committee.
UNESDA’s report sets out the reasons why it proposes for the current Nutri-Score scheme for beverages to be adjusted and puts forward three possible approaches on how the algorithm could be improved:
- avoid conflicting information with nutrition claims such as ‘low-calorie’ or ‘no sugar’ to improve consumer understanding.
- ensure a more even distribution of rankings throughout the soft drink segment to help consumers identify the lower sugar beverage more effectively.
- reflect differences in sugar content in soft drinks more clearly to incentivise producers to continue to reformulate or to innovate with new low-sugar soft drinks.
UNESDA’s proposed changes are aimed at making the Nutri-Score scheme for beverages more aligned with the EU Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation (1924/2006), helping European consumers make well-informed choices and incentivising beverage companies to reformulate and to continue to innovate with new low- and no-sugar drinks.
We look forward to the European Commission’s proposal for an EU harmonised front-of-pack labelling aimed at helping people to follow healthier diets and ensuring the smooth functioning of the EU Single Market.
Read UNESDA’s report here.