What do we really eat? What information do labels give us? Do they tell us everything? Are companies really being transparent?
We felt it would be useful to address these issues at a time when we see three important trends emerging in the market:
- The gradual implementation of stringent regulations, such as the EU’s INCO (Information to Consumers) regulation: The regulation introduces mandatory nutrition declarations applying from 13 December 2016, in the form of a table placed on product packages and specifying the energy value and the quantities of fat, saturated fatty acids, carbohydrates, sugar, protein and salt. Another example is the new “Nutrition Facts” label made mandatory in the United States from 2018. In both cases, the logic is the same: to inform consumers and enable them to compare products;
- A change in consumer behaviour: Consumers have become more demanding in terms of quality and transparency, as evidenced notably by the multiplication of labels offering a more restrictive framework than the regulatory framework on the use of additives, pesticides, or GMOs;
- Warnings from scientists and NGOs about the hazardous nature of some products or practices: For example, studies showing a link between some sweeteners and hyperactivity in children, which led to a warning being put on labels in Europe but not in the United States. Conversely, other studies, notably those on aspartame, did not lead to any restrictions by the health authorities, whether in Europe or the United States.
How do companies integrate these changes? Are these risks and/or opportunities? This study aims to address these questions by
- deciphering the information on the packaging,
- providing a preliminary clarification on the regulatory context and health risks.
For this purpose, we contacted 17 companies in five countries and five sectors – including three subsectors of the agri-food industry, mass retail and catering – in order to get a comprehensive picture from field to fork. We interviewed them on six issues: nutrition, responsible marketing, additives, contaminants (pesticide residues, drug residues, pollutants and residues of materials in contact with food), nanoparticles and GMOs.
Our first conclusion concerns the maturity of companies by sector.
Companies in the retail sector obtain the best results. Some retailers integrate the precautionary principle, when others are too often content with complying with local regulations. This peculiarity is explained by the fact that the retail sector is the one most sensitive to the reputational risk.