The French health app Yuka is quickly becoming popular in Belgium, with many consumers often following its advice. Consequently, large companies are starting to adjust the composition of their products in order to achieve a better 'Yuka score'.
In the app, consumers can check food and cosmetic products for their health value and any possible risks by using the product’s bar code. Each product receives a score out of one hundred and a colour (green, yellow, orange or red) that indicates how (un)healthy it is. The app was launched two years ago in France and now has nine million users. In Belgium, the app has already reached 400,000 users, barely six months after its launch.
The great success of Yuka means that the app has a real impact on major food and cosmetics companies such as Unilever and Nestlé: they have already indicated that they take the app's criteria into account when developing products. Other companies, including several supermarket chains, have already announced that they will review the composition of dozens of products because of the poor score they received on Yuka.
Some Belgian producers are of the opinion that for the time being, the momentum is not yet here: "The app is widely used in France in particular. The French consumer takes this into account", says Evi Vandenborne of Continental Foods. "But that does not mean we are adjusting our products for that reason alone. We have set up a sustainability programme to meet the needs of our customers, who are looking for more natural products. That is why we score better in the app, not really by design."
In scientific circles, criticism of the app is increasing: for example, it is not always clear how the Yuka score is calculated. In addition, the app is not just based on proven effects, but also on 'potential' consequences. "I think it would be terribly stupid for companies to adjust their products under pressure from this app", toxicologist Vera Rogiers states in Belgian newspaper De Tijd. "Such apps represent complex science in far too simple a manner, and even then it is on the basis of wrong information."
Rogiers is Vice Chair of the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety, which assesses the safety of personal care products. In her opinion, the app takes far too much of a one-sided look at the presence of certain ingredients, without taking into account the degree of exposure to them. "They state that certain substances in sunscreen are harmful. But to be harmful, you would need to put a whole suitcase full of sunscreen on your body."