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Recurring criteria revisions can steer product composition

A recent study[1], published in Food Chemistry, showed that in the Choices program in The Netherlands, criteria revisions had a clear impact on product improvement. The levels of trans fatty acids, sodium, added sugar, saturated fat and energy in many product groups showed a stepwise and significant reduction while levels of dietary fiber increased.

The aim of front-of-pack labelling is twofold: to inform consumers in a simple way and help product reformulation by the food industry.

One of the key aspects of the Choices program is the periodical revision of the criteria, to keep stimulating industry to improve their products. These revisions normally take place every four years. The paper by Van der Bend et al. was the first to study how these revisions impacted product composition. Data have been used from the Dutch Choices program between 2006 and 2016, a period in which, after publication of the initial criteria, two revisions of these criteria took place. By analyzing 4343 products bearing the Choices logo from 27 product groups, the authors showed a substantial improvement in product composition. The character of the reformulation closely followed the criteria revisions.

The Choices criteria are product group-specific. For that purpose around 30 product groups are defined. Of the 27 product groups that have been investigated, trans fatty acids were significantly reduced in eleven groups and sodium in ten. Energy, saturated fat and added sugar decreased in 4-6 product groups. Six product groups showed an increase in fiber content.

In addition, it could be shown that in many product groups the reformulation efforts closely followed the criteria revisions. Tightening the criteria for milk-based desserts, processed potatoes, sauces on water basis, margarines, emulsion sauces, bread toppings and fruit juices resulted in favorable nutrient changes that were coherent with these criteria changes.

The authors also compared the Choices labeled products with unlabeled products in the same product group on the Dutch market. Unsurprisingly, labelled products had a healthier nutrient composition than general Dutch products. Remarkable was that in various product groups, the improvements by reformulation of labeled products were larger than of the non-labeled products.

Concluding, recurrent criteria revisions in a positive FoP labeling scheme such as Choices, seemed to have had positive effects on ongoing product reformulation in the Netherlands during the time the Choices labeling scheme was implemented.

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