The Choices International Foundation was formally founded in 2007 by Campina, Freisland Foods and Unilever. The founders had been working on a labelling scheme to make healthy food choices more apparent to consumers since 2006, when the Health Minister told industry that either it come up with a scheme, or he would impose legislation.
The Choices symbol applies only to foods that meet certain qualifying criteria, and the criteria are drawn up by a scientific committee and reviewed every two years. An accredited certifying agency evaluates whether products are eligible to bear the stamp.
Researchers from the University of Amsterdam set out to assess whether adherence to the programme acted as a lever for manufacturers to change product formulations. Their findings, published in the open access Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, indicates that this is the case – especially where sodium and fibre are concerned.
The study is said to be the largest of its kind investigating the effect of a nutrition logo on the development of healthier products. It involved questioning 47 food manufacturers joining the Choices Foundation whether their Choices products were newly developed, reformulated, or already complied with the Choices criteria.
Reformulated soups and snacks
Most products carrying the logo after reformulation and new product development were seen to be soups and snacks.
Processed meats, sandwiches, soups and sandwich fillings were the products most commonly reformulated to reduce sodium content.
For newly developed Choices products, an increase in dietary fibre was most common across food groups, in fruit juices, processed meats, dairy products, sandwiches and soups.
In dairy products, saturated fat content and sugar were seen to decrease most significantly.
Calorie content was seen to significantly decrease only in reformulated dairy products, sandwich fillings, and some new snack products.
The findings of the study were welcomed by Prof Jaap Seidell, chairman of the Choices Scientific Committee and one of the study authors.
“This is encouraging news,” he said. “These findings give clear evidence that the programme is really making headway in one of its key focus areas, to stimulate industry to make healthier options more available.”
The study also comes at a time when front-of-pack labelling schemes are in the European spotlight, as new legislation currently being worked out envisages a common scheme for EU member states.
The indications are that the scheme of choice will resemble the Guidance Daily Amount (GDA) scheme developed by the food industry, but the issue had proved controversial and others have preferred a colour coded scheme.
There may be scope for other labelling schemes to co-exist with the EU scheme, however.
The study is available for download here.