Adjustments needed for Nutri-Score implementation in The Netherlands
Clear labels on food products help consumers choosing healthier options, and it stimulates producers to innovate and create healthier products. The Dutch Ministry of Health is considering introduction of the Nutri-Scopre label in the Netherlands next year, if the underlying criteria have been aligned with the Dutch nutritional guidelines. In several other countries, like France, Belgium and Spain, the label is already being used.
Together with Wageningen University & Research (WUR), our colleague Dr. Léon Jansen researched if Nutri-Score actually values healthier products in a product category better. He also checked the distinguishing characteristics between different products per category and if the products with good Nutri-Scores actually had a better nutrient profile. Besides this, the Nutri-Scores of products researched were compared with the Dutch dietary advice to determine if products with a good score are compliant with the guideline. This research has recently been published in the scientific journal International Journal of Nutrition and Food Science.
Nutri-Score works with five colours and letters A to E. This allows for a balanced judgement by the consumer. This includes for instance the amount of fruit/vegetables per 100g; and the amount (w/w) of salt, sugar, saturated fatty acids, proteins and calories. Nutrients with an overall positive effect on health score negative points, while less healthy nutrients score positive points. The more points a product scores, the less it fits in a healthy diet.
Based on the total amount of points, a product gets a score (ranging from A to E) and a colour code.
2299 products analysed with Nutri-Score algorithm
Jansen studied the Nutri-Scores of a total of 2299 products from four product categories: cheeses, meal sauces, soups and ready meals.
To help consumers choose healthier options, the logo should
- have products with different Nutri-Scores (A-E) evenly distributed per category.
- allocate bad scores (D-E) to products high in salt, sugar, saturated fatty acids et cetera (and vice versa)
- allocate better scores (A-B) toproducts that fit into the Dutch dietary guidelines.
Jansen and his colleague checked studied if the Nutri-Score works like this in the four product categories.
The analysis shows that products with different scores were not evenly distributed per category. For cheeses, 84% were classified as a D, while in soups no products with a D or E were found. The Nutri-scores of many products were not in line with the Dutch Dietary guidelines. In addition, no strong relation has been found between the Nutri-Score and the presence of health influencing nutrients (i.e salt, sugar etc.).
The authors concluded that the algorithm behind the Nutri-Score needs adaptations to make it better fit for The Netherlands. To help consumers purchase healthier options, these products should indeed score better in the algorithm. In addition, less healthier options should score worse. This now is often not the case. To stimulate product innovation towards healthier alternatives, a more product category specific algorithm might be better suited to assign the better scores to the healthier options.