Nutri-Score: suitable to help consumers make healthier choices?
Here are the pros, cons and improvements
There is a discussion going on about the introduction of the Nutri-Score*. The Nutri-Score is already being used in France, Belgium and Germany, among others. In the Netherlands, it also appears on packaging more and more often. Nevertheless, many parties involved, such as nutritionists, food suppliers and food producers, do not yet agree with each other about its use and effectiveness.
At the beginning of 2023, there will be more clarity about the use and implementation of the Nutri-Score in the Netherlands. But what are the advantages and disadvantages of the Nutri-Score when we look at consumer behaviour and the way they make choices? What works well, and what doesn't (yet)? And how can we help consumers make healthier choices as effectively as possible?
*Nutri-Score is a food choice logo to help consumers make healthier choices using colours (green, yellow, orange, red) and letters (A-B-C-D-E). The score is based on the composition of nutritional values. This is compared with products from the same product group.
The advantages of Nutri-Score:
Nutri-Score helps people who want to make a healthier choice
The use of colours and letters on the front of packaging makes the score clear, recognizable, understandable and easy to process for consumers. This is an improvement on the current information on nutritional values. It helps and reminds consumers to include health in their consideration. Even if they are overloaded with offer and information, such as in the supermarket.
Healthy choices becomes easier, especially when in doubt between different products within a certain product group or category
And that is precisely where many consumers who consider health important have the most difficulty. So its not about: “Do I eat fruit or a cookie?” (because people already know that fruit is healthier), but: “I would like a cookie. Should I choose this cookie or that cookie?”.
This way, the comparison within a certain product group also gives the consumer more perspective for action
Being healthier and making conscious choices does not mean that you can only drink water, for example. If that was the case, almost no one would keep up with being healthy. But instead of drinking lemonade with sugar, for example, choose lemonade without sugar. That is an improvement that is achievable for many people.
Nutri-Score is not only about labeling the 'conscious choice' as good, but also about the other side: 'this is actually not a conscious choice'
This gives the consumer a more fair and more complete story. Also, it can motivate producers to make their products healthier.
The disadvantages of Nutri-Score:
Nutri-Score has little or maybe even a counterproductive effect on people who do not consider health important or are not concerned with it
They are less familiar with the logo. As a result, they do not know and recognize it, and its effect is lost. In addition, products that are labeled as healthier with the Nutri-Score may be less tasty in their eyes. This may lead them to choose less healthy options.
Nutri-Score is not (yet) (always) in line with other health and nutritional advice
For example, the Nutri-Score is not always in line with the advice from the "Schijf van Vijf", a food guide provided by The Dutch Nutrition Center. There is also a lack of information about the choice between two product groups, and Nutri-Score says little about people's complete diet. This can cause confusion and ambiguity.
There is also a risk of compensatory behaviour
For example, if a product scores better than expected within a certain category, consumers may think that it is okay to eat or drink a lot of this product, or to eat an extra amount of other (unhealthy) things.
It places too much responsibility on the consumer
Informing consumers about what is and what is not healthy places the responsibility for making healthy choices with the consumer. But many (daily) situations are designed in such a way that consumers are unable to make rational choices based on this information. This way they are still nudged to make unhealthy choices.
Work must be done on the reliability and credibility of the Nutri-Score
The Nutri-Score has suffered a major dent due to all the discussion about it. As a result, consumers will be more skeptical about its introduction and effectiveness.
So, Nutri-Score or not?
The Nutri-Score can certainly help consumers make healthier choices. But (the functioning of) the Nutri-Score is not perfect yet. Doing nothing and waiting until there is a perfect alternative will not help consumers to make healthier choices. Nutri-Score is increasingly popping up on packaging all around us. If that is not done consistently, it will create more confusion, skepticism and even indifference among consumers. That is why it is important to implement the Nutri-Score, to use it consistently and to develop it further.
Attention points during the introduction and further development of Nutri-Score:
1. For the acceptance and effect of the Nutri-Score it is important that there is consensus about its use and usability. Nutrition experts need to come to an agreement: what is Nutri-Score already suitable for? Where can and should it be improved? Based on this, clear choices must be made about the use of and communication around Nutri-Score.
2. The Nutri-Score must be placed in the right context for consumers who want to make an informed and healthier choice. This can be done, for example, by indicating more clearly within which product group the comparison has been made, by adding an overarching health score, and/or by properly informing consumers about what the Nutri-Score is and is not suitable for.
Isn't that too much information? No. Consumers who are motivated to make a healthier choice are willing to process this extra information. Consumers who are not motivated will not process this information anyway. And that brings us to the last point:
3. Consumers are not always motivated to make healthier food choices, and are still too often nudged towards unhealthier food choices. The Nutri-Score will not change that. That is why Nutri-Score should always complement and not replace education about a healthy diet and lifestyle, good marketing for healthy choices and (system) changes such as reducing the supply of unhealthy products.