A potentially big packaging change is sweeping the European Union. Are packaged food companies ready?

The NutriScore labeling system—a five-color rating system designed by the French government to promote healthier food choices for consumers—was adopted by Belgium and Spain on a voluntary basis in late 2018 after France implemented it in 2017. The label’s system ranks the most nutritious products as class A and the least nutritious as class E, sliding down the scale for products that contain more salt, sugar and fat and less fiber, protein, fruit and vegetables.

While adding NutriScore labels is voluntary in all three countries, the governments and local industry groups pushing for widespread adoption. In Spain, for example, Food Navigator reports that the Spanish minister of health, Maria Luisa Carcedo, says that this information will give consumers the ability to easily compare products and make an informed decision. In Belgium, public health minister Maggie De Block put it simply: “We are facilitating the choice of healthy eating.”

Packaged food companies will need to stay ready in case consumers and retailers want to see the NutriScore labels on products, as their desires carry a lot of weight in these markets. This kind of demand has happened before in Europe; the U.K.’s voluntary health label—known as the traffic light logo—started as a voluntary health label but became widespread after major supermarkets in Britain struck a deal with the government to adopt the label.

A similar trend is already happening across France, Spain, and Belgium, as retailers are adding the labels to their products. In France, for example, supermarket chain Intermarché added the label to 1,300 of its private label products in early 2018. In Spain, Spanish supermarket chain Eroski has introduced the Nutri-Score label to certain private label products, calling the move “an important step forward” for greater transparency in food quality. European Supermarket Magazine quotes Alejandro Martínez Berriochoa, director of health and sustainability at Eroski, who says that the chain wants to allow consumers to have a “balanced, sustainable, healthier diet.” Eroski claims that 85% of its client partners favor the NutriScore labels.

Similarly, Belgian retailer Spar Belgium has adopted NutriScore labeling for its private label products, announcing that the labeling system will be added to these products in stores across Belgium operated by its retail partner Colruyt. “It’s very important for us to keep informing our customers in a clear and transparent way,” Stefan Goethaert, general manager of Colruyt, told European Supermarket Magazine. “This helps customers make responsible choices about which products to consume, based on a scientifically validated score.” Delhaize is also utilizing NutriScore in their stores.

Although the NutriScore label could help consumers make healthy food choices, many packaged food companies will have a tough time making quick changes to packaging labels and artwork. The EU is a big market that features many unique submarkets; what other countries might adopt this NutriScore labeling system in the near future? We don’t know, but we do know that it is something that could change thousands of product labels.

Companies may have a hard time making the quick changes necessary to add the NutriScore labels, but brands that use a packaging workflow management software will likely be able to better adapt. By adding workflow management software to the packaging process, marketing, design and packaging departments can work more collaboratively, and feel more transparent with their processes, creating accountability and reducing the amount of time spent on revisions and approvals. They’ll also be able to spot problems early in the process, allowing them to make changes as needed.

NutriScore, The Internet and Social Media

Even if adoption of the NutriScore label seems slow and small, things change quickly in the internet era—packaging is no exception. For example, the 2018 Tetra Pak Index found that 72% of consumers post images or comments on food and beverage products each month. And some consumers take their product labels even more personally; the Packaging and the Digital Shopper study by Esko, Pantone, X-Rite, AVT and Danaher finds that 13% of shoppers have taken a selfie with their food or beverage product. These statistics may not mean much now in these three EU countries, but if the NutriScore trend catches on and consumers notice that a brand has left the label off of its packaging, they’ll call it out.

Beyond the internet and social media impacts, Colruyt and Delhaize have developed a mobile app for packaged food products sold in-store, further solidifying the importance of 100% consistency between packaging content and design both on-and-offline. The group’s free SmartWithFood app is the first tool of its kind that allows customers to see the NutriScore of all their 20,000 scanned products on sale.

The Future of NutriScore and Label Initiatives

This NutriScore adoption will also impact food companies’ brand management and advertising strategies in the near future as well. On Thursday February 21, 2019 the French National Assembly passed a new law. Food companies must now display the NutriScore on all advertising materials that promote their products. The score is required for “commercials on the internet, televised or broadcast, for advertising created and promoted in the French territory and received in this territory.” This new regulation begins on January 1, 2021.

The easiest way to adhere to this new European label scoring trend is to adopt technologies that give companies the ability to make packaging and advertising changes quickly. A workflow management software increases a brand’s agility to execute all changes and increases speed-to-market.