Nutritional labels are often unclear to consumers, but Nutri-score does help people to reduce the portions of less healthy products, a recent scientific study claims.
Easy to understand
Three different food labels battle to be found on the front of European food packaging these days. In France (and since recently in Belgium), the government has opted for Nutri-score, a simple colour and letter based code that indicates how healthy a product is. In the United Kingdom, a 'traffic light' system has been in place for some time now: a colour code that indicates whether a product contains (too) much sugar, salt, fat, saturated fatty acids or calories. Now there is also the 'Evolved Nutrition Label', which is promoted a group of big food producers (like Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever) who find the nutri-score 'too simplistic'.
All three of these labels want to offer an simpler alternative to the Guideline Daily Amount, but with different results. A study compared the impact of the three systems on 25.000 French consumers, who were presented with products from the cookie, cheese and sweet spreads categories, and then had to indicate the portion (number and quantity) they consumed.
The nutri-score led to the strongest drop in portions, while the traffic light label also had a positive impact compared to products without a label. But ENL, the label of the major food brands, showed different results depending on the category. For cheese there was a slight decrease, but for sweet spreads the label encouraged consumers to choose larger portions.
"With ENL, consumers are potentially misled about the real nutritional quality of the product", the researchers conclude. The label leads to confusion and may encourage people to eat more of some less healthy products, such as sweet spreads. Which, of course, cannot be the intention...