Front-Of-Pack: A Different Approach?
Front-of-pack nutrition labelling is meant to give busy shoppers an instant indication of a product’s nutrition quality.
The UK’s front-of-pack nutrition labelling method with its traffic-light indicators is now well-established.
There was a lot of debate, but when the main retailers adopted it, it became commonplace. It is still voluntary though and some companies such as Cadbury will not use it. Will the Government make it compulsory in the future?
The essence of it is that levels of four ‘baddies’, fat, saturates, sugars and salt, are rated with green, amber or red symbols.
In other parts of Europe, the Nutri-Score system is gaining popularity. And that of course impacts on UK companies exporting there.
Where Nutri-Score differs from the UK model is that, after awarding points for some ‘baddies’ (energy, saturates, sugars and sodium), points are deducted for two ‘good’ nutrients (fibre and protein). It then also deducts points for high levels of the total amount of fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, pulses and some oils present. So the product is rewarded for the positives, not just penalised for negatives.
Once the points are tallied, the product receives a ranking letter A, B, C, D or E.
The controllers of the scheme, Santé Publique France used British research to get a meaningful formula for totalling the fruit, nuts, seeds etc. (Scarborough et al., Oxford https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267194254).
Both of these schemes are quite simple for the consumer to use, but that simplicity does create some limitations.
Take five food products:
- orange juice
- cola drink
- peanuts and raisins
- smoked mackerel
- oven chips
Most people would rate the orange juice, peanut snack and mackerel as ‘healthy’. Cola and chips would probably be viewed as less healthy.
Here are the front-of-pack results (nutrition values, traffic-light and Nutri-Score results calculated by NutriCalc):
|Fresh orange juice||250ml||0||B|
|Cola (not Diet)||330ml can||1||E|
|Peanuts and raisins||25g serving||3||B|
|Smoked mackerel||80g fillet||3||D|
|Oven chips||100g serving||0||A|
For the two drinks, the traffic-light values suggest the products are fairly healthy. Nutri-Score punishes the high sugar and energy values. Orange juice would be classed as E, the same as the Cola, but it is rewarded for its fruit content, hence the B rating. In fact, the only drinks allowed an A classification are waters.
Peanuts and raisins (60:40 mix) gets three red traffic-lights because nuts are high in fat and saturates and raisins are high in sugars. Smoked mackerel also gets three reds because it is high in fat, saturates and salt. Mackerel is of course hailed as being healthy because of its omega fats, but that does require a good amount of fat and the fat is high in saturates.
In Nutri-Score, peanuts and raisins are rewarded for substantial fibre and protein and also because of the high fruit and nut content, hence the B rating. Unfortunately, the mackerel is not rewarded. Even its high protein content is disqualified because of a rule about lack of fruits etc.
Finally the chips do not have much in the way of baddies, so no red traffic-lights. And Nutri-Score only finds high energy, which is cancelled by the fibre content.
So, for these examples, Nutri-Score does seem to be a better system, although with some limitations.
But one drawback of Nutri-Score is that it doesn’t have the individual ‘bad’ elements clearly displayed.
So, for example, someone with high blood pressure wouldn’t see an instant rating for salt.
In that case, could we have both traffic-lights and Nutri-Score on our packaging in the future? Well, maybe. But I have a feeling that could be some way off!
Dr David Bartley, NutriCalc Ltd