Nutrition Labeling: 6 Major Companies Partner to Develop Evolved EU Color-Coded Scheme

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09 Mar 2017 --- Six major food companies have announced they will develop a color-coded nutrition label on their products’ packages in the EU. The Coca-Cola Company, Mars, Mondelez International, Nestlé, PepsiCo and Unilever: "are committed to continue to take meaningful actions, alongside other stakeholders, to contribute to promoting healthier diets and balanced lifestyles to tackle issues related to obesity and other non-communicable diseases."

“Combining color-coded Reference Intakes with a portion element, offers individuals and families more information about the nutrition in each food or beverage they choose, in a very intuitive format. With this new scheme, we want to nudge people towards a healthy diet which now includes more detailed portion information. This decision is a logical next step in a journey that started in 2005, when Nestlé pioneered with other industry players the monochrome GDA scheme.  We will continue to evolve our labeling efforts that allow individuals to make the most informed choice possible,” says Marco Settembri, Executive Vice President Nestlé S.A., Head of Zone Europe, Middle East and North Africa (EMENA).

A statement from the consortium read: “Prominent on-pack nutrition labeling can play an important role to inform consumers on the levels of nutrients and the overall energy content of what they eat and drink, thus empowering them to make healthier choices and eat and drink mindfully. We agree on the importance for consumers to have a meaningful, consistent and single nutrition labelling scheme across Europe, in compliance with the existing EU regulation. A proliferation of national schemes would hamper consumer understanding and would be a barrier to the single market.”

“In Europe, nutrition labelling has evolved and improved over the years, to respond to changing consumer needs and stakeholder expectations. This will continue to be the case. Consumer feedback and input from internal and external nutritionists demonstrates that the current Reference Intake (R.I.) scheme, which the industry has voluntarily implemented beyond its minimum provisions, could be further enhanced specifically by integrating color coding to allow for an easier interpretation.”

“Equally important is to ensure that such an EU-harmonized, color-coded labelling scheme would encourage offering smaller portion sizes. Alongside reformulation and innovation, smaller portion sizes (based on credible portions) play a key role to support healthier consumer choices and should therefore be recognized as such in an evolved nutrition labelling scheme.”

“As a result, the undersigning companies have launched a taskforce, which looks into integrating portion sizes in the existing color-coded R.I scheme as applied in UK and Ireland. Progress in this area will be shared with stakeholders such as other food industry players, retailers, NGOs and the European Commission to gather feedback and identify a credible and workable solution.”

“All of the undersigned companies are committed to accelerate work at European level to be able to integrate both enhancements (color coding and supporting smaller portion sizes) in the current R.I. scheme. We acknowledge ongoing local discussions and signatory companies will continue to engage constructively in line with the progress made in the aforementioned taskforce and the individual companies’ positions. The end goal of all of the undersigned companies is to put in place a robust nutrition labelling scheme that helps consumers make balanced and mindful choices.”

Professor Michael Gibney is Professor of Food and Health in UCD’s School of Agriculture and Food Science, is Director of the UCD Institute of Food and Health and is Chairman of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. In a statement, he said: “We know that portion control is central to weight management strategies, so nutrition labelling per portion makes sense. The absence of legally standardised portions in the EU should not prevent us to build a robust portion-based scheme that better reflects actual consumption. The 2016 EU-funded study “Food4ME” showed that while the probability of consuming a food and the frequency of consumption differs substantially in Europe, the portions we consume are quite similar everywhere. A pizza portion in the UK, for example, is similar to one in Italy,” says Mike Gibney, Professor of Food & Health, University College Dublin.

“We are excited to be part of a coalition of leading companies that sets out a vision for providing a European-wide approach to developing a nutrition labelling scheme. Led by broad stakeholder insights, this endeavor will enable our industry to provide high quality and accessible information to consumers in a consistent manner no matter where they are in the EU,” says Gilles Morel, President, Mars Chocolate Europe and Eurasia.

“The environment where countries introduce separate schemes leads us down a path which threatens both in terms of business complexity and potential consumer and customer impact, especially as these labels can be simplistic and inconsistent.” “This is why we believe the time is now to work together to consider development of a harmonized European color-coded label, which includes guidance to consume smaller portion sizes,” says Hubert Weber, President MEU, Mondelez International. “We believe that by working together and taking a unified European approach, we can ultimately reach our end goal of putting in place a robust nutrition labelling scheme that helps consumers make balanced and mindful choices,” he says.

Ramon Laguarta, Chief Executive Officer, PepsiCo Europe Sub-Saharan Africa says: “At PepsiCo we recognise our responsibility to help consumers make informed choices about what they eat and drink and we are proud to join forces with our industry peers to pave the way for harmonised, easy-to-interpret nutritional labels across the EU. We have a tremendous opportunity to help inform people every day as they shop and we see clear labelling as an important part of our commitment to help consumers reduce sugar, salt and saturated fats in their diets.” 

EU consumer group BEUC welcomed this landmark step but “deplores the way manufacturers want to define the colors reflecting the foods’ nutritional value.” The group noted that the EU-wide application of a front-of-pack, color-coded simplified nutrition labelling scheme was first touted during discussions on the European Commission’s proposal for a review of the EU food labelling rules, which was released in January 2008.

“We are satisfied that these major food companies are finally recognizing that traffic lights do help consumers to make healthier food choices. We are happy that over the years they listened to our constant reminders on what consumers understand better to make an informed choice,” says Monique Goyens of the group. 

“BEUC has long been calling for mandatory, front-of-pack simplified nutrition labelling using colors. Today consumers have busy lives and little time to shop. Such schemes inform them at a glance about the amount of fat, saturates, sugar and salt in the food they buy.”

Regarding the fact that companies have chosen to express the traffic lights per portion instead of 100ml/g, Monique Goyens continued: “However, we hope the companies’ move is only a first step towards a simplified label that genuinely makes the healthy choice easy for EU consumers.

“We disapprove of a color scheme which uses the portion as the reference, as opposed to 100g/ml. Not only will it make it harder for consumers to compare food labels and figure out which product is the healthier option but it will even mislead them.

“In practice, what may seem as a small tweak will lead to more ‘greens’ and ‘ambers’ on confectionery, breakfast cereals and biscuits for instance. These are all foods high in fat, sugar or salt that typically have a lot of ‘reds’ under the current UK traffic lights system – and rightly so.

“We doubt that nutrition labelling is the right tool to educate consumers on portion sizes. It rather aims at telling consumers how healthy or not their food is.

“Portions can never be the reference for color-coded nutrition information. They can only be an extra piece of information, provided they are realistic. Indeed, who eats only 30g cereals at breakfast? Who counts sweets from a big bag until one reaches the food maker’s recommended portion?”

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