For several years, products “without added sugars” or with reduced sugar contents have been on supermarket shelves. Manufacturers are striving to improve the nutritional qualities of their products, especially since the arrival of tools such as the Yuka application and the Nutri-Score.
There is no evidence that the sugar levels of the products we eat have fallen over the years. Data from the Food Observatory(Oqali), which is responsible for monitoring food supply and measuring changes in nutritional quality, shows that not all products are equal on the subject.
For the “chocolate crispy muesli” family, the sugar level fell by 4.3 grams per 100g on average between 2008 and 2018. The same is true for chocolate cereals, which saw their sugar content fall by 6.7 grams over the same period, including market shares.
But conversely, the sugar contained in compotes increased by 4% (including market share) between 2009 and 2017. Worse, in Liège and similar desserts, the sugar level increased by 10% on average between 2009 and 2018.
The association Consommation Logement Cadre de vie (CLCV) has just published a study on yogurts and milk desserts in which it denounces the presence of very high sugar levels. Milk desserts of animal origin (creams, mousses, flans …) contain the equivalent of 4 pieces of sugar for a jar of 125g. Besides, some are so sweet that they shouldn’t even be considered “milk products.”
A consequence of the Nutri-Score
The drop in sugar, and more generally the desire to improve the nutritional quality of products, is mainly linked to the implementation of the Nutri-Score since 2016. This nutrition labeling system (from A for the healthiest foods to E for those containing high salt, sugar, or fat content for example) has become a buying reflex for consumers and therefore a marketing argument.
Public Health France notes that “more and more consumers report having changed at least one of their purchasing habits thanks to the Nutri-Score”. They are 57% in 2020 to declare having done so, against 43% in 2019. In addition, 70% of respondents have a better image of a brand that is committed to affixing the Nutri-score.
Improving the qualities of a product to go from a D to C grade then becomes a selling point.” We have many manufacturers who ask us to improve their Nutri-Score,” confirms Béatrice de Reynal, doctor of nutrition and marketing director of the consulting firm Nutrimarketing which works with many players in the food industry.
Brossard has lowered the sugar level of its flagship Savannah cake from a D to C grade.”Beyond the interest of informing the consumer, the purpose of the Nutri-Score was also to push manufacturers to improve their products by putting them in a position to display the reality of their composition and to play on the competition between the different companies,” confirms Serge Hercberg, professor of nutrition and designer of the famous Nutri-Score.
For the moment, nothing obliges manufacturers to display the Nutri-Score on their products. Private labels are good students. Intermarché has modified 900 recipes and Carrefour has accelerated its sugar hunt and displayed the nutriscore on all their products.
“It’s not very surprising. The big distributors sell everything so they don’t mind displaying E or D products because they have others that will be A and B,” explains Serge Hercberg.” But for brands like Mars or Mondelez (Oreo, Philadelphia, Milka…), almost their entire portfolio is poorly ranked. So they have more trouble accepting to play transparency, “says “Mr. Nutri-Score”.
The giant Lactalis (President, Galbani, Salukis…), opposed to the Nutri-Score which it considers unfavorable to its activity, has just created its own rating system. “By rating D, E, or red products, we disqualify them. The risk, in the end, is to destroy a cheese, dairy, and creamer market whose quality has made the reputation of France, “justified Philippe Palazzi, CEO of Lactalis, quoted by Le Figaro.
“Of course, you’re never better labeled than by yourself. But Lactalis does not play the game, as often, “laments Serge Hercberg.
Above all, if the Nutri-Score is a selling point, it does not mean that you should not buy the product. A bad rating simply reminds the consumer to eat it in small quantities and not to consume it too often.
“Nutella has never been bothered by the Nutri-Score while it is rated E, the worst rating. Because people don’t want to do without it,” says Béatrice de Reynal of Nutrimarketing.
Reducing sugar levels is not so easy
To reduce the sugar content of products, several solutions exist to satisfy the consumer’s desire for sweetness while reducing the quantity. You have to fool the brain.” For example, Nestlé has put sugar on the outside of the nuggets of its cereals. The tongue perceives the sweet taste intensely, but inside there are fewer sugars,” explains Béatrice de Reynal.
It is also possible to play on the acidity of a product to reduce the sugar level. “Instead of putting pure sugar, we can use apple or fruit purees. There are more and more products with zucchini,” adds Béatrice de Reynal.
But lowering the sugar content faces several obstacles. On the one hand, sugar is a preservative. On the other hand, it has great importance for the texture of the product. “A madeleine without sugar would be much too wet because sugar retains this moisture,” explains the doctor of nutrition.
On the other hand, if consumers are looking for products that are better for their health, they do not want to do without sugar. “A dessert cream without sugar, no one is going to find it good,” says Béatrice de Reynal.
As a reminder, the National Food Safety Agency (ANSES) recommends consuming no more than 100 grams of sugars per day (excluding lactose and galactose) and no more than one sugary drink.