Why Portugal is officially adopting Nutri-Score

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Portugal has made the decision to adopt nutrition labelling scheme Nutri-Score. Here's why. GettyImages/Anastasiia Konko
Portugal has made the decision to adopt nutrition labelling scheme Nutri-Score. Here's why. GettyImages/Anastasiia Konko

Related tags nutri-score Portugal

Portugal has become the eighth country in Europe to officially adopt Nutri-Score.

Portugal is officially adopting Nutri-Score. As it stands, eight countries in Europe have adopted the scheme on a voluntary basis, including France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and now Portugal.

According to the Portuguese Government, many factors influenced the decision to adopt this particular nutrition labelling scheme. We’ve summarised them here.

1. Nutri-Score promotes healthier eating

First and foremost, Portugal is implementing Nutri-Score as a public health tool to promote healthy eating.

In Portugal, obesity affects around 53% of the population. With obesity putting people at risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the government is keen to act.

In essence, the government wants to make healthier eating decisions easier. Survey results in France suggest Nutri-Score is effective in this way​.

Simplified labelling systems have been backed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a means of preventing chronic diseases. Of the nutrition labelling schemes available, Nutri-Score is considered amongst the most effective​.

What is Nutri-Score and how does it work?

Nutrition labelling scheme Nutri-Score was developed in France in 2017. Its algorithm ranks food from -15 for the ‘healthiest’ products to +40 for those ‘less healthy’. Based on this score, the product receives a letter with a corresponding code: from dark green (A) to dark orange (E).

2. Portugal wants to limit the proliferation of nutrition labels

The European Commission has committed to announcing a harmonised mandatory front-of-pack (FOP) nutrition labelling scheme. Plagued by delays​, industry still doesn’t know which label will be adopted EU-wide.

In the absence of a mandatory nutrition labelling scheme, Portugal has observed a proliferation of different simplified labelling systems. The government is concerned these are making it ‘difficult’ or ‘confusing’ for consumers to make healthier choices. Further, some labels are less effective than Nutri-Score and could encourage consumption of less healthy products.

Portugal is confident that Nutri-Score, particularly after its algorithm updates, presents ‘adequate scientific robustness’. The labelling scheme has been rolled out by other European countries has already adopted by several operators including FMCG majors Nestlé and Danone​.

Nutri-Score algorithm updates explained

Since its creation, the Nutri-Score algorithm has been updated twice: once in 2022 and once in 2023, for food​​ and beverage products​​ respectively.

Under the latest version, nuts and seeds are no longer included in the ‘fruit, vegetables, legumes’ component, but in the ‘fats, oils, nuts and seeds’ component. Other changes include enhanced differentiation between sweetened and unsweetened dairy products, and well as between different types of cheese.

The beverage algorithm update lowers the classification for beverages with non-nutritive sweeteners such as soft drinks​​. The only beverage that can achieve the highest score of Nutri-Score A is now water. All other beverages, including naturally low-calorie beverages, will be classified between B and E.

3. Colour coding for the win

Nutri-Score is described as a ‘graded scale’ nutrition labelling scheme, in that it gives a score in both letter grading (A to E) and colour grading (dark green to dark orange).

The Portuguese Government suspects such a scheme would suit its population well. According to research cited by Portugal’s National Program for the Promotion of Healthy Eating (PNPAS), 40% of respondents do not understand the nutritional information on food labels. This difficulty was ‘considerably’ greater in those with less education.

Research suggests nutrition labelling schemes that use colour may allow for better understanding of the labels.

Not all are in favour of Nutri-Score, including Portugal's meat sector

Nutri-Score is backed by many, including food majors (Nestlé, Danone, Kellogg), governments (France​, Germany​, the Netherlands​ etc.) and even the UN’s International Agency for Research on Cancer​ (IARC).

But it has not won the hearts of all. Nutri-Score has been outlawed in Romania​, and makers of so-called traditional foods in Italy​ and Spain​ have continuously pushed back against the labelling scheme.

In Portugal, opposition to the government’s decision has already been observed. The country’s meat association Apicarnes (Associação Portuguesa de Industriais de Carnes), told us is does not agree with the decision.

“We are still in the analysis phase,” executive director Graça Mariano told FoodNavigator, “We hope that it will not have many supporters.”

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