The Canadian federal government has cooked up something sweet for its citizens—especially for those concerned about what they’re eating.
A major proposed change to nutrition labels for packaged foods (based on feedback from over 10,000 surveyed Canadians) would see all sugars grouped together in a single measurement, allowing consumers to quickly determine the total sugar content (including added sugar) in every food and drink. The change would also include a recommendation from health regulators that consumers limit their sugar consumption to 100 grams per day. That’s equal to three cans of soda, or 16 sugar cubes (represented by the middle-sized bottle of Coca-Cola below):
In addition to this potentially historic change, here’s the full list of new features that would appear on Canadian nutrition labels. They would:
- Regulate serving sizes to make them consistent and realistic.
- Make it easier to find information on serving size and calories.
- Add a footnote at the bottom of the nutrition facts table to explain how to use percent daily value (% DV).
- Improve the labelling of sugars. A new % DV for sugars will tell Canadians whether a food has a little or a lot of sugars. In the list of ingredients, sugars will be grouped.
- Make the ingredient list and information on allergens easier to find and read.
- Identify food colours by their common name in the list of ingredients.
- Allow the use of a new health claim: “A healthy diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits may help reduce the risk of heart disease.”
To help visualize the proposed changes, here is a detailed diagram of how the new label would look:
Even for those who don’t live in Canada, this proposition could have far-reaching effects. Here are five likely outcomes:
1. U.S. companies may begin selling Canada-specific products
Based on the United States’ history with food regulation, it’s unlikely that our government will attempt to limit our sugar intake. But because many U.S. FMCG businesses sell in Canada, they will have to either modify their offerings or develop new Canada-only products that comply with the new label regulations. This could affect business structures, and bring healthier options to the market.
2. The U.S. will face pressure from food NGOs to follow suit
The idea of reducing sugar intake to 100g per day didn’t originate in Canada, but with the World Health Organization (WHO), which actually suggested an even lower daily intake for sugars.
The sensational documentary Supersize Me managed to convince McDonald's, one of the world’s largest food companies, to change its offerings. The fast food franchise started selling salads and offering healthier alternatives. It even eliminated its “Supersize” offering. Should Canada’s proposed regulations pass, similar pressure could hit the U.S. FCMG.
3. We will gain a better sense of Daily Values
Did you know that 5% of something is “a little” and that 15% or more is “a lot?”
While adding this disclaimer to nutritional labels may not be the most comprehensive solution, sometimes these small, helpful reminders resonate most strongly with consumers. Would people start avoiding foods with more than 15% fat or sugar? Probably not in significant numbers--but it would certainly help consumers begin to recognize the content of their meals more accurately.
4. More people will start reading the “Ingredients” list
Nutrition labels list ingredients with complex and confusing chemical names, similar ingredients aren’t necessarily grouped, and the text is small, making the types of food extremely difficult to read.
The new Canadian nutrition labels would fix these issues, which could prompt more people to read the lists carefully, and in turn lead to more nutrition-conscious consumers, and a healthier society.
5. There will be more transparency in net weight and serving size
The biggest change for Canadian consumers is that the proposed nutrition labelling system will be more transparent. Part of that transparency must include an explanation (or at least a set of standards) explaining how net weight and serving size are measured.