A newly-published paper in the scientific magazine, Nutrients, suggests that the Nutri-Score system may be the most effective front-of-pack label (FoPL) when it comes to helping consumers rank food items by nutritional quality.
The study compared five different FoPLs – Health Star Rating system, multiple traffic lights, Nutri-Score, reference intakes and warning symbol – to examine food choices and the consumers’ ability to understand the labels.
Nutri-Score was the best format to help Italian consumers identify the nutritional quality of foods.
For the study, researchers asked a representative sample of 1,032 Italian consumers selected for age, gender, lifestyle and income to complete an online survey in which they were asked to select one food item from a group of three with different nutrient profiles that they would most likely purchase.
Afterwards, they were asked to rank the three food items by their nutritional quality, first without any label then with one of the five FoPLs.See Also: E.U. Approves Italian Alternative to Nutri-Score Labeling System
The results of the study showed that while the FoPLs had limited impact on the food items chosen by consumers, the Nutri-Score system was most effective in aiding consumers to order the items by nutritional quality.
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“All five FoPLs improved somewhat the nutritional quality of food choices compared to no label for some participants, with no significant differences across schemes,” the team of Italian and Australian researchers wrote. “However, Nutri-Score was the best format to help Italian consumers identify the nutritional quality of foods.”
“On the contrary, the reference intakes label, the format of which is very close to the new FoPL format being proposed by the Italian government, NutrInform, was the least efficient scheme to assist Italian consumers in interpreting the nutritional quality of foods,” the researchers added.
For the researchers, the performance of Nutri-Score did not come as a surprise, as their results proved to be consistent with previous studies conducted in several European countries.
“Notably, similar results were observed in Spain, another Mediterranean country with a similar food context and dietary behaviors as Italy,” the researchers wrote.
The choice of analyzing FoPL performance among Italian consumers comes as the European Union continues to debate which food labeling system to adopt.
While Nutri-Score is gaining traction in several countries within the E.U., Italy is the one European country that strongly opposes its introduction.
Local authorities and many in the food chain do not believe Nutri-Score adequately classifies the health benefits of many ingredients of the Mediterranean diet, especially extra virgin olive oil.
Italy is also pushing the E.U. to adopt the Nutrinform Battery instead of Nutri-Score.
“Although Italian stakeholders have raised criticisms against the Nutri-Score, to date no scientific comparative study has been published in Italy to test its effectiveness among consumers, in comparison to various FoPLs, such as the reference intakes, of which the Nutrinform Battery is a variant,” the researchers wrote.