Studies Indicate Labels Like Nutri-Score Help Consumers Make Healthy Choices

The European Union’s Joint Research Center has published four studies showing that some front-of-pack labeling (FOPL) systems, such as Nutri-Score, could influence consumers to make healthier choices when shopping for groceries.

Proponents of Nutri-Score see the publication of these studies, which serve as an official update of the European Commission’s scientific position, as an implicit endorsement of the FOPL.

The JRC position appears to explicitly counter all major criticisms leveled at Nutri-Score over the past two years.– Cristina Chirico, Head of the International Office, Italian Farmers’ Union

The European Commission remains on track to nominate a single mandatory FOPL for the EU in the next six months, with Nutri-Score firmly at the forefront.

The JRC studies showed that FOPLs provide incentives for the food industry to improve the nutritional quality of their products in order to improve the products’ scores.

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According to the studies, consumers prefer simple, colorful, and appreciative FOPLs. Additionally, consumers understand less complex labels more easily than more complicated, single color, non-judgmental labels.

Other results show how FOPLs are more efficient at informing consumers compared to menu labels, shelf labels, point of sale signs, QR codes, website hyperlinks, and other external tools that provide access to information.

The JRC studies also highlighted the extent to which consumers are influenced by a product’s country of origin. When buying groceries, however, time pressures or the attractiveness of certain products through advertising or packaging often distract consumers from looking at the origin of the product.

Consumers also prefer products that advertise their low environmental impact.

The JRC position appears to explicitly counteract all the major criticisms leveled against Nutri-Score over the past two years,” said Cristina Chirico, director of the Farming is Life association in Italy and head of the international office of the Italian Farmers’ Confederation Olive Oil Times.

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Nutri-Score is a traffic light-style FOPL that uses a combination of five coordinated colors and letters to rank how healthy a packaged food is based on its fat, sugar, salt and calorie content per 100 grams. or milliliter portion. That Green A” indicates the healthiest option, and Red E” denotes the least healthy.

According to its proponents, Nutri-Score allows consumers to compare foods within the same product category.

Most olive oils, including extra virgin olive oil, are given a Light Green B” by Nutri-Score, the second highest rating. Olive oils previously obtained a Yellow C”, but strong lobbying from across the olive oil world led to an optimization of the algorithm to take into account the type of fat content. Olive oil consists of about 76 percent monounsaturated fatty acids.

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In a presentation of the study results, the JRC said the new results would help inform the European Commission’s decision on which FOPL will be selected for mandatory adoption across the EU

In response to the study, Serge Hercberg, the creator of Nutri-Score, said that the FOPL perfectly matched all of the JRC’s findings.

Conversely, the Italian Nutrinform battery FOPL is classified as monochrome, non-judgmental and complex nutritional labeling on the front of the pack (corresponding to labels less well positioned by JRC in terms of usefulness and efficiency),” he added.


According to Hercberg, the results of the JRC studies refute claims by lobby groups and farming associations that argue Nutri-Score is too simplistic and hurts traditional producers.

The most severe criticism of Nutri-Score has come from Italy, where the government, farming associations and academics have rebuked the FOPL. The JRC results have also met with widespread criticism.

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Italy as a whole has worked to abandon a labeling system believed to mislead consumers,” Chirico said. This position does not change. So we will continue our challenge.”

We are concerned about the timing and content of the JRC update and about some criticism of the Italian position, which is not the result of lobbying; it is a fight for the health and interests of European consumers and farmers,” she added.

Chirico said associations and advocacy groups in Italy would continue to crack down on Nutri-Score, which she says is a simplified food scoring system.

Unhealthy diets are the by-product of abandoning traditional agricultural models,” she added. Sustainable agricultural production is inextricably linked to healthy and sustainable consumption.”

Like many in Italy, she believes authorities need to take a more holistic approach to food labeling, citing the pillars of the Mediterranean diet as an example.

The goal we are all working towards is to increase consumer awareness of the nutritional properties of food,” said Chirico. The difference here is that we consider the effects of a complete diet. We believe that a person’s lifestyle determines their health, not just a single product.”

However, Hercberg said this type of rhetoric (referring to the general arguments rather than the specific ones listed above) is made by food lobbies in Italy to defend their economic interests flattering culinary nationalism.”

These pseudo-arguments are of course absurd, but they are consistent with those put forward by various political parties in Italy, particularly the far-right and populist parties on electoral grounds,” he added.

Chirico counters that improving healthy eating habits requires sustainable agriculture, alleviating food poverty and improving nutrition education, which she believes cannot be achieved with a single food label.

We cannot accept conditioning the consumer with labels that simply ignore the bigger picture of the food system,” she said.

According to European Commission sources, the final decision on whether to select Nutri-Score as Europe’s mandatory food label is expected to be published in the first three months of 2023 under the Swedish EU Presidency

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