Reform of the Nutri-Score: 3 challenges for manufacturers

Published on 11 January 2023 Read 25 min

At the end of the year, the European Union must designate a single nutritional indicator and the Nutri-Score no longer seems to be the favourite, even though it meets three main criteria: interpretative, simple and associated with a colour code. In view of these latest developments, Alcimed highlights three challenges for the food industry in terms of product valorization and reformulation.

A better valuation thanks to a finer classification, by product family

Until now, it has sometimes been difficult for consumers to distinguish nutritional quality within the same product category. For example, olive oil and walnut oil both have a Nutri-Score D. Until now, neither the polyphenols in olive oil nor the omega-3s in walnut oil were valued in the rating. This left industry with no room for action, olive oil producers being stuck with a poor Nutri-Score.

The new algorithm provides for a better classification within the product family of oils. Olive oil will be able to display a B Nutri-Score, while sunflower oil will be limited to a C. Cheeses will also benefit from the reform of their rating with less severity. Pressed cheeses, such as Emmental for example, will be able to be better graded because of their salt content, which is much lower than other cheeses such as Roquefort.

This improved rating is beneficial for olive oil producers, but it is also an opportunity for the dairy industry, whose reformulation efforts (lowering the salt content of cheeses, or the sugar content of yoghurts) could be taken into account in the Nutri-Score.

An incentive to develop alternatives to red meat, now penalized by the Nutri-Score

The current reform proposes to penalize red meats (beef, veal, lamb, etc.) by imposing on them a lower Nutri-Score, as opposed to poultry or fish.

In most countries, public health authorities and nutritional recommendations agree on the need to limit the consumption of red and processed meat. These recommendations are based on recent studies showing the association between red and processed meat consumption and the risk of cardiovascular disease and colon cancer.

In line with these recommendations, the current reform proposes to penalize red meats (beef, veal, lamb, etc.) by imposing on them a lower Nutri-Score, as opposed to poultry or fish.

Consequently, if manufacturers of ready-to-eat meals wish to improve the Nutri-Scores of their products, they could be strongly encouraged to turn to other sources of animal protein such as poultry or oily fish, which are also subject to a more flexible classification. These developments could also be a booster for alternative meat products (plant-based or cellular), which should be less penalized or even promoted.

Reformulation as the only way to improve the Nutri-Score of a product

A demand of the industry was to take into account the portion of food consumed in the calculation of the Nutri-Score. One of the main arguments is based on the fact that not all products are consumed in the same quantity, and that it is necessary to adapt the ratings according to the quantities consumed in real conditions. This is a point that has been defended for years, for example, by Roquefort cheese producers who are heavily penalized by the Nutri-Score.

However, taking into account the portion size is not considered in the current reform, nor is it foreseen for the next evolutions to come. Indeed, several methodological questions arise: who would be in charge of choosing the portion size? How would it influence the score? For the moment, the Nutri-Score stands its grounds with a “more pragmatic” calculation based on nutritional values per 100g.

The complete reformulation of the product remains the only way to improve the Nutri-Score. Manufacturers, and especially those of “indulgence” products, must therefore continue to work on product innovation, for example towards alternative sugars, or new alternatives to salt, to meet the demands of consumers who are increasingly sensitive to the nutritional value of their purchases.

While the Nutri-Score reform allows certain product categories such as oils to be upgraded, reformulation and the choice of ingredients remain an essential challenge for manufacturers in order to improve the score of their products. While efforts are already underway in this direction, the acceleration of transformations seems inevitable, as in the beverage sector, which should also see its scoring algorithm modified in the coming years. Moreover, anticipating the debate on controversial ingredients seems essential, as these are not yet penalized by the Nutri-Score, while other tools such as Yuka already take them into account.  Alcimed stands at your side to develop your product innovations and solutions to meet these new challenges!

About the author, 

Ludivine, Consultant in the Alcimed’s Agribusiness team in France

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