The German Federal Minister of Food and Agriculture has officially announced that Germany will introduce the Nutri-Score labeling scheme, which represents a label that converts the nutritional value of products into a simple code consisting of 5 letters, each with its color. Every product is awarded a score based on an algorithm, as the formula takes into account the nutrients to avoid, as well as the positive ones.
The German Frozen Food Institute (dti) advocated the introduction of the Nutri-Score voluntarily at an early stage and also endorsed the Nutri-Score at the European level, as an expanded and simplified nutritional labeling system. German companies can use the time left until autumn, when they must legally comply. The dti webinar “The Nutri-Score – Legal Status, Calculation and Practical Experience” that took place at the end of April ensured an intensive, professional exchange with experts to provide companies with help and technical expertise in implementing the new labeling system.
It became apparent during the dti webinar that a lot of companies still have questions when it comes to calculating and licensing. All of these should be clarified before enforcing these measures in Germany. In the case of planned adjustments to the Nutri-Score, the calculation should, first of all, be applied to complex foods, that are composed of various ingredients. The frozen food industry is one of the pioneers in introducing the Nutri-Score, and the dti says it will continue to support its members and provide communication support. A follow-up webinar is scheduled for early September 2020.
Frozen Food Europe reached out to Dr. Sabine Eichner, managing director of the German Frozen Food Institute, to further explain the impact that Nutri-Score will have on the industry.
What is, in your opinion, the main benefit of introducing Nutri-Score?
The debate on extended, simplified nutritional labeling has been fierce for many years. Consumer associations called for traffic light systems, the food industry fought against unjustified discrimination against individual nutrients and products. With the Nutri-Score, a scientifically based system is now available that is based on a complex calculation method and takes a holistic view of food. At its core, the Nutri-Score is about helping consumers choose the healthier alternative in their daily food choices. The Nutri-Score also creates transparency within a food category and between different categories. It adds a visual element to the detailed nutritional table, which will continue to be displayed on the packaging, to show the nutritional quality. Consumer studies have shown proof that Nutri-Score helps consumers choose healthier products. According to Eichner, from an economic point of view, another advantage is that the labeling system has already been accepted in several European countries, which gives us the chance to develop it further into a uniform model for Europe.
Can you assess the impact that the introduction of Nutri-Score will have on the food industry?
The labeling system provides an incentive for the industry to develop or reformulate products that have a more favorable nutritional profile for health. The Nutri-Score can, therefore, become a kind of compass in product development. Manufacturers also have the opportunity to draw consumers’ attention to improved nutritional values within the framework of the Health Claims Regulation. A survey by Santé Publique in France on consumer purchasing behavior already shows that 71% of consumers confirm that the Nutri-Score improves the image of brands and 50% of consumers mention that they no longer buy products without the Nutri-Score.
On the other hand, the Nutri-Score initially requires additional calculation work, and packaging must be converted. To implement the changes, the manufacturer has 24 months after registration. There are no license fees for the label.
What other actions should be taken to protect customers and standardize food labeling across Europe?
First of all, the introduction of the Nutri-Score in Germany and other European countries should widely be promoted and encouraged, from which findings for consumer research should be gained. The reduction strategies already initiated in many countries, in combination with extended nutritional labeling, should first be examined in terms of their effects. We are convinced that no further regulatory measures are necessary, because the consumers have the choice and can now make their decision even more informed.
One of the goals of the German EU Council Presidency will be to promote the further development of the Nutri-Score into a standard EU-wide extended nutritional labeling. Standardized labeling would be in the best interest of consumers and industry. A clear regulatory framework would be created for the industry and the free cross-border movement of goods would be guaranteed by the removal of trade barriers. It will take some time to achieve this politically, as various systems are already established nationally. The EU Commission should seize the opportunity to set the course for a European solution as part of its farm-to-fork strategy.
What is the difference between European states in terms of labeling and can these be considered a challenge for standardizing?
There are different models in Europe, such as the Italian battery model, the Swedish keyhole system, or the Finnish heart labeling system, which are intended to help consumers to make healthy food choices. While keyhole and heart are positive labels, the Nutri-Score takes an overall view of the food and its nutritional values, which allows the consumer to weigh their choices. With the battery model, there is only a small additional benefit for the consumer to the nutritional value table, because it cannot be grasped at a glance.
As several EU countries want to promote the Nutri-Score throughout the EU, the political discussion is gaining traction. European companies would like to have a uniform regulation and European consumer interest groups are also campaigning for the Nutri-Score in the EU. However, it will certainly take a lot of persuasion and patience to arrive at a uniform approach to the European internal market.