The Keyhole is a logo used in the Nordic region with two stated objectives: to help consumers make healthier food choices at the point of purchase and to stimulate manufacturers in healthy reformulation by reducing sugar and salt levels or increasing wholegrain content.
Created in Sweden in 1989, it has since became a common Nordic label for healthier food products with Denmark, Sweden and Norway adopting it in June
2009 followed by Iceland in 2013.
It can be added to packaged products such as bread, dairy, oils and ready meals that are low in salt, sugar and fat and high in wholegrain.
While the logo is free to use, many manufacturers who could add it to their products' packaging, choose not to.
“There might be many causes,” said Veronica Öhrvik, head of the national food composition database at the Swedish National Food Agency, Livsmedelsverket. “That the criteria are difficult to interpret; the producer is not aware they may use the Keyhole symbol; new packages mean extra costs, or that the company choose not to label their product because they consider the label does not add any value.”
Sweden’s National Food Agency will be launching an investigation this year into why some manufacturers are not using the logo.
However, there are already calls for the nutrient thresholds to be lowered in the case of salt, sugar and fat, and raised for wholegrain.
Last week, the Norwegian Consumer Council, Forbrukerradet, published a report which showed the average salt content in many products was below the threshold levels required by the Keyhole scheme, prompting calls for Nordic policymakers to take note and the Keyhole to be revised.
Senior advisor at the Consumer Council Kaja Lund-Iversen said: “We think these results should be of interest to the health authorities as they are responsible for the Keyhole and see it is lagging behind on salt limits.
“A revision of the salt criteria in the Keyhole to some extent can function as an incentive for the manufacturers to further reduce salt content in food."
Since its creation in 1989, the eligibility criteria for the Keyhole symbol has been revised four times.
But Öhrvik said: “Currently there are no planned revisions; however, we are discussing the issue.”
Lack of uptake ‘not a drawback’
Öhrvik confirmed that many manufacturers go beyond the Keyhole criteria not just for salt but also for fat and sugar, particularly for certain product categories.
She gave the example of fermented milk products. The scheme allows up to 4 g of added sugar and 1.5 g fat per 100 g but many products are below this.
According to Öhrvik, however, this is not a sign of the scheme's failings. “This must not be considered as a drawback but will always be the case when we have set a clear cut-off,” she said.
Finland does not use the Keyhole symbol, opting instead for its own heart-shaped symbol.