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Singapore’s Nutri-Grade nutrient labeling system is proving to be a useful tool in stimulating competition and product innovation in the health and wellness beverages space and curbing sales of unhealthy drinks. Notably, 53 % of Singaporean respondents said that health labeling (information on protein/sugar/fiber/carbohydrate content) displayed on the product packaging often or always influences their product choices*, in a recent survey by GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company.

Tim Hill, Key Account Director at GlobalData Singapore, comments: “Nutrition labeling systems, such as daily intake guidance, warnings, traffic lights, star ratings, and nutrition scores, are intended to help consumers in making informed decisions and transition to healthier foods. These systems grade or rate food and drinks based on the sugar, fat, sodium, and energy content in beverage formulations. The standardised grading systems make use of colours, vectors, and symbols that are easier for consumers to read than the comprehensive back-of-pack ingredient lists.

“Additionally, as these gradings/rankings are defined, they are easier to comprehend than the plethora of health and natural claims that food manufacturers employ. Some of these claims are misleading, for instance, a product with the tag ‘no-added sugar’ can hide the fact that it contains ingredients rich in natural sugars such as fructose.”

Bobby Verghese, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, notes: “In its war on diabetes, the Singapore Government mandated the “Nutri-Grade” nutritional labeling system for pre-packed beverages and automatic beverage dispensers from December 30, 2022. Moreover, pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages with high sugar or fat content are given a low rating and prohibited from being advertised. The authorities plan to extend nutrition labeling to freshly prepared beverages by the end of 2023. Nutri-Grade has reportedly curtailed sales of unhealthy drinks.”

Hill adds: “Nutri-Grade is motivating beverage makers to reformulate existing products and launch new products with less sugar and calories. It fosters competition among brands and labels to step up research and development (R&D) of healthier ingredients and processes, which ultimately provides consumers with a broader choice of better-for-you products. In a recent case, Yakult Singapore’s flagship probiotic drink, Yakult Original, received a low Nutri-Grade D rating due to its high sugar formulation, while a similar product from rival brand Vitagen received a higher Nutri-Grade B rating for its low sugar recipe. Subsequently, in March 2023, Yakult Singapore launched a new variant named Yakult Gold, which it claims contains only up to five grams of sugar per 100 ml, and is fortified with Vitamin D to boost bone and dental health. Yakult Gold thereby received a Nutri-Grade B rating and the Healthier Choice Symbol badge.”

Verghese concludes: “Similar to Singapore’s Nutri-Grade, Malaysia and Thailand have adopted both voluntary Guideline Daily Amount (GDA) labels and the Healthier Choice Logo, while the Philippines has opted for a voluntary GDA system. The Indian food safety agency, FSSAI, has also proposed an Indian Nutrition Rating system akin to Australia’s Health Star Rating system.

“Authorities are striving to plug the loopholes in these rating systems, including the difficulty in comparing different product categories under each system. These diverse nutrient labeling systems across countries will undoubtedly escalate the procurement, R&D, and production expenditure of F&B companies. The adoption of uniform standards across the Asia-Pacific will incentivise F&B manufacturers as they can offset the added costs through economies of scale of selling similar products across borders.”

*GlobalData Q3 2022 Consumer Survey – Singapore with 513 respondents, published in September 2022