April, 2024

Is Nutri-Score Color Label Still under the Spotlight?


In 2020, The European Union presented a proposal for the adoption of a standardised front-of-pack labelling system for food products. To-date, however, this system has still not been implemented across the board but only in a handful of European countries on a voluntary basis, including France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands.

Nutri-Score, the labelling system developed in France in 2017, is still a much-debated and controversial subject which has prevented it from being fully adopted throughout Europe. The algorithm gives a score ranging from -15 for the healthiest foods to +40 for those that are less healthy, using a colour-based classification system, going from dark green (A) to dark orange (E), and takes into account mainly the sugar, salt and calorie content of the food products.


The Nutri-Score system proves particularly worthy for the comparison of two similar products because each product is assessed on the basis of its composition, focusing on the amount of salt and sugar contained and its energy value. If this approach is adopted in western societies, it could lead to a drop in calorie intake, thereby representing a precious ally in the fight against obesity. On the other hand, this system may not be suited to people suffering from malnutrition or other dietary problems, as they might need to follow a different type of diet. Nutri-Score favours a binary classification system of products, i.e. healthy or less healthy. For this reason, the system is designed as a guide for consumers without substituting national guidelines or professional advice from a dietician. In addition, Nutri-Score does not take into consideration certain essential food components such as vitamins, caffeine, and preservatives, which are crucial when assessing whether or not a food is ‘healthy’.

Finally, one of the most controversial points concerning the adoption of the Nutri-Score system is the penalisation of traditional, mono-ingredient food products. This includes cheeses such as Grana Padano (Italy), Kalamata (Greece) or Camembert (France), which are protected by geographic quality labels. This happens because Nutri-Score applies its score on 100 grams of product, a quantity that is not typically the amount consumed of this type of product. Furthermore, it does not bear in mind the nutritional benefits of such products that can be useful in a balanced diet if consumed in moderate quantities. (Can the 5-colour nutrition label “Nutri-Score” improve the health value of food?, 2023).


The research focuses largely on how the Nutri-Score is interpreted by consumers and its ability to efficiently distinguish food products based on their nutritional composition. Another crucial aspect to examine is whether Nutri-Score classifies food products in the same way as local food guidelines, to determine whether their introduction could lead to confusion.

According to the study entitled “Alignment of Nutri-Score with Mediterranean Diet Pyramid: A Food Level Analysis”, published by Nutrients, Nutri-Score is able to make a distinct division between foods at the top of the top and those at the bottom of the Mediterranean diet pyramid, which is based on scientific evidence but also on social and cultural elements of the Mediterranean society, where red meat is placed at the top while fruit and vegetables, and cereals, are placed at the bottom. Most foods at the top of the pyramid are classed as “D” or “E”, while those at the bottom are classed as “A”, thus suggesting alignment between the guidelines of the Mediterranean diet and the Nutri-Score classification. In the central part of the pyramid, however, Nutri-Score has shown that it is less precise when it comes to assessing the “goodness” of food products that have obtained the score of “B”. The main misalignment regards the classification of certain products consisting of a single ingredient, as mentioned above. Owing to their composition, these are in fact penalised despite the fact they are part of the Mediterranean diet and have a positive nutritional impact if consumed in smaller amounts.

Small steps have nonetheless been made towards the modification of the classification of certain products of this type. In 2022, olive oil – which was initially classified with the Nutri-Score C due to its high calorie content, was upgraded with Nutri-Score B. This is because, when used as a condiment, it is believed to have beneficial effects on health. Furthermore, the new algorithm focuses on the classification of milk-based beverages with a high sugar content, beverages with a low sugar content, and beverages containing non-nutritional sweeteners (NNS). The new evaluation thus regards milk, milk-based beverages, beverages based on fermented milk, and plant-based beverages (previously considered foodstuffs and not beverages). With the recent changes, water will be the only beverage that can obtain the maximum Nutri-Score of A. All other beverages, including those that are naturally low in calories, will be classified from B to E. Plant-based beverages, including alternatives to milk based on soy, oat, rice and other sources, will no longer be able to be classed as A but between B and E depending on their composition (Which front-of-pack nutritional label yields the healthiest results?, 2024).

Excess weight and obesity are conditions that affect almost 60% of adults and almost one in three children in WHO European regions (WHO European Regional Obesity Report 2022). Although national guidelines can provide some guidance to consumers, the responsibility of each individual in the adoption of healthy eating habits and a balanced lifestyle is essential. The use of front-of-pack labels is an important topic, above all as a way of helping to guide consumers towards more conscious and balanced decisions regarding food. Although the Nutri-Score still has some limitations, by implementing gradual changes and improvements to the algorithm, it could develop into a system that stands out for being easy for consumers to read and comprehend, thus encouraging the adoption of more balanced and healthier diets.