SINGAPORE – Food and beverage (F&B) outlets will be required to include nutrition labels on their menus for freshly made sugary drinks with higher levels of sugar and saturated fat by the end of 2023, the minister says Health Ong Ye Kung announced last Thursday (August 11).
The Nutri-Grade system – which will be used to classify pre-packaged drinks from December 30 according to their sugar and saturated fat content – will be extended to freshly made drinks, such as those brewed in coffeeshops, freshly squeezed juices and bubble tea. .
The labeling should “provide Singaporeans with the right information to make their own healthy choices and at the same time encourage manufacturers to reformulate products and create healthier options”, said the Minister of State for the Minister of Health. Edwin Tong in March 2020 when he announced the diet.
Ratings range from A to D, with D being the most unhealthy.
Those high in sugar and saturated fat will get a C or D rank, which will require them to have a Nutri-Grade label on their packaging. D-rated drinks will also face advertising restrictions.
The latest decision to extend labels to freshly made drinks has prompted some vendors of these drinks to ask how nutritional content will be measured.
In response to TODAY’s questions, the Department of Health (MOH) and the Health Promotion Board (HPB) said: ‘Similar to other jurisdictions which have introduced mandatory labelling, we will consider apply measures only to large establishments at first, while exempting smaller establishments serving freshly prepared beverages.
“We will not require all establishments to use laboratory testing to determine the sugar and saturated fat content of their beverages.”
They added that it is acceptable to rank drinks by estimating their sugar and saturated fat content from the individual drink ingredients.
“When ready, more details of the measures will be released in the coming months,” the MOH and HPB said.
While the prepackaged beverage rating system was announced in 2020 and will be fully implemented on December 30, has it already resulted in any changes to the sugar levels of these beverages?
And with the program to be implemented for freshly made beverages, how will this affect consumers and F&B operators?
WHAT IS THE RESPONSE TO THE NUTRI-GRADE DIET SO FAR?
Announcing the extension of the Nutri-Grade system to freshly-brewed drinks, Mr Ong noted that the prevalence of diabetes in Singapore has remained “fairly constant” over the years, and that long-term action to address the problem goes through early detection. and preventive care.
Obesity is one of the main risks associated with diabetes and the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on countries to reduce each individual’s sugar intake.
“Today, more than half of Singaporeans’ daily sugar intake comes from beverages, of which prepackaged beverages, for example, canned and packet beverages, contribute nearly two-thirds,” he said. he declares.
While the Nutri-Grade system will be fully implemented for prepackaged beverages at the end of this year, Ong noted that there has been “a positive response from both the demand and supply side of the industry.” ‘industry”.
The median sugar level of prepackaged drinks has been reduced from 7.1% in 2017 to 4.7% in 2021 as producers reformulate their drinks ahead of the effective date of the measures, he said.
He also noted that the sale of pre-packaged drinks with sugar content that would classify them as grades C and D fell from 63% in 2017 to 40% in 2021.
“Conversely, sales of beverages with less than 5% sugar increased from 37% to 60% over the same period,” Ong said.
HOW WILL THE PROGRAM WORK FOR FRESHLY MADE BEVERAGES?
Ms. Samantha Chan, lecturer in marketing and digital communication at the School of Business Management at Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP), said the Nutri-Grade program would help consumers of freshly-brewed beverages make better choices.
“Labelling could help raise awareness of the sugar content of these drinks and make consumers more aware of what they are consuming. This approach will support the department’s goal of educating consumers for the long term,” she said.
She echoed the sentiments of other nutritionists and marketing experts, who noted that educating consumers will help them make a better choice.
Associate Professor Zhang Kuangjie of Nanyang Business School noted that the labeling will provide greater transparency on the nutritional content of freshly made drinks, such as hidden sugars.
“For example, some consumers may not be aware that a (cup of) bubble tea with the lowest sugar level may still contain a lot of sugar due to the other contents, such as syrup and condensed milk,” did he declare.
However, experts also noted that there will be challenges in changing consumer behavior and helping F&B outlets adapt to the new rules.
Ms Chan noted that the change might not work for some consumers who regularly buy sugary drinks.
To overcome this, she suggested adopting strategies such as gamification, which can encourage consumers to make a healthier switch through engagement.
Professor Assoc Zhang also said a higher Nutri-Grade rating may not equate to a healthier choice and may lead to a decline in F&B outlets.
“For example, a sugar-free soft drink (with a possible Nutri-Grade of B) is not necessarily healthier than a 100% fresh orange juice (with a possible Nutri-Grade of D),” a he said, adding that the authorities should consider integrating other nutritional dimensions into the program.
In response to such concern raised by a public consultation on the grading system in 2020, the MOH and HPB emphasized that the system is focused on sugar and saturated fat content, and that the system will work with the efforts of public education to promote healthier diets.
“The Department of Health and HPB recognize the nutritional benefits of whole milk and 100% juice, and intend to highlight them as part of our public education efforts,” they said. , in response to comments about these two prepackaged drinks.
Ms. Claudine Loong, a lecturer in food science and nutrition at the School of Applied Science, Nanyang Polytechnic, pointed out that companies selling fruit juices may struggle with the new curriculum as they may not not be able to reduce the sugar content.
“For fruit juices made by extracting or blending the fruit itself, it is quite impossible to reduce the sugar content, as it is natural in the fruit itself,” she said.
In contrast, it is easier to reduce the total sugar or fat of other high-fat or sugary drinks by reducing the addition of full-fat whipped cream, flavored and sweetened syrups, sugars, or tea pearls to bubbles.
“Due to the sensory properties of fats and sugar, removing these ingredients would also affect the texture and nature of beverages, such as milkshakes and yogurt drinks,” Ms Loong added.
However, she acknowledged it could raise awareness that fresh juices and fruit-based drinks aren’t “as healthy as they look” due to their high sugar content.
Associate professor of marketing education at the Singapore Management University, Seshan Ramaswami, also noted that authorities will need to help cafes normalize their sugar intake.
For example, he noted the term siu dai (less sugar) may indicate different amounts depending on the teapot or coffee maker.
“The onus is of course on the beverage stand operators who now have to be a bit more careful (to) understand the specifications of the different labels and ensure consistency over time and location while maintaining the same standard,” he said. -he declares.
“Hopefully they get some help from the HPB or other associations to be able to accurately label their menus and then find ways to deliver the promised sugar content.”
He also noted that beverage chain operators — which rely on their multiple locations and marketing and branding efforts to attract customers — will need to be more careful in their marketing efforts.
“They may not be able to offer the most indulgent and appealing variations, such as drinks with huge fudge or whipped cream toppings, and will need to be a bit more alert in their advertising,” he said. he said, adding that they need to make sure their drinks don’t fall into the category D area.
He also noted that apart from advertising, the display of drinks at the point of sale can influence consumer decisions, which can be difficult to regulate.
“Programs can only be effective if there is an application that requires periodic checks which may require random sampling of beverages from various operators on an ongoing basis to ensure labels continue to be accurate,” said he declared.