VERTONE Blog – The French in search of healthier food: a major challenge for brands and distributors

VERTONE Blog – The French in search of healthier food: a major challenge for brands and distributors


The French are looking for healthier food: this trend is not new but it has been reinforced by the current health situation. In a context of mistrust of companies, consumers are increasingly turning to third-party information to study the health impact of food products and to help them in their purchasing choices, such as Nutri-score, type applications. Yuka, consumer associations…. Faced with the multiplicity of these sources, based on different criteria, brands and distributors are struggling to define a clear strategy. What criteria should they take into account when formulating products? What communication approach must they define in order to differentiate themselves?

Health: a crippling criterion in the choice of food products of the French

In the land of gastronomy, pleasure has always been at the heart of food concerns. However, it appears that a second criterion becomes prohibitive in the purchasing choices of the French: health.

Once a fundamental trend, awareness of the essential role of food in health has accelerated in recent years and seems, in a context of health crisis, to position itself at the heart of consumers’ concerns: eating healthy and balanced is essential. now a priority for 70% of French families. The health impact becomes one of the main purchasing criteria: 91% of French people consider it very important, a criterion that has become almost as important as the notion of price and pleasure.

The keys to healthy eating: nutritional quality and level of product processing

Schematically, two dimensions of the evaluation of a healthy diet can be distinguished:

  • The “Balanced Eating”, linked to the nutritional quality of food, where certain foods or nutrients are to be favored (fibers, proteins, fruits & vegetables) and others are to be limited (calorie intake, saturated fatty acids, sugars, salt). This vision is in line with the idea of ​​daily nutritional thresholds (% RDI) to target in order to eat a balanced diet.
  • The “Eat True”, related to food processing level, encouraging the consumption of natural products and warning against their ultra-processed versions. The evaluation of the level of transformation is therefore based on the presence of “ultra-transformation markers” (MUT), purified or denatured ingredients whose health potential is deteriorated (eg milk proteins) as well as on the presence of ” additives such as dyes and preservatives

A VERTONE study, carried out in partnership with the Ifop research institute, shows that the level of processing and nutritional quality are two major concerns of the French when purchasing a food product.

If the reflection on the nutritional aspect seems to us fairly well advanced on the market, it seems important to us to stress the importance of the transformation aspect. In our study, a large majority of French people say that they want to consume products “as natural as possible, as less processed as possible”. The presence of additives is the most crippling criterion when faced with a purchase: consumers rest the product if it contains additives or preservatives.

The subject of food processing is also increasingly present in the media and in public debate, like the documentary Arte “ Big junk food », Viewed more than 3 million times. The issue of food processing is also creating a prominent place in current political debates: among the proposals of the Citizen’s Climate Convention, we find the prohibition of food additives within 5 years and mandatory labeling on the level. transformation.

Food applications and third-party information sources: various battles on the health aspect

A long history of food scandals and lack of transparency in the manufacture of certain products has tarnished consumer confidence in brands and distributors. In this context of mistrust, even mistrust, third-party players have positioned themselves as allies of consumers: official or association labels, food scanning applications, consumer associations or activists … They support the consumer in his understanding of the composition of products and stand out as trusted third parties in the food industry.

Among these players, three main types of positioning stand out with regard to the dimensions of nutritional quality and the level of processing mentioned above:

  • On the one hand, the Nutri-Score is exclusively focused on the nutritional aspect : it compares the nutritional intakes of each product with respect to the recommended daily intakes and proposes to categorize them from A to E: A being the most favorable product from a nutritional standpoint. The index does not take into account the method of manufacture or the degree of processing of the food.
  • On the other side,the Siga application is focused almost exclusively on the transformation aspect : it classifies products with a score from 1 (unprocessed) to 7 (ultra-processed). The evaluation of the level of transformation is based on the presence of “ultra-transformation markers” (MUT), purified or denatured ingredients whose health potential is deteriorated (eg milk proteins) and the presence of additives such as dyes and preservatives. The index partially integrates the nutritional dimension by distinguishing in particular between so-called “balanced” foods and those called “gourmet”.
  • In the middle of these two extreme positions, we find the Yuka and Innit type applications. : the methods for calculating the Yuka and Innit scores are mainly based on the nutritional aspect, with criteria close to the Nutri-score, and they also include in their score the presence of controversial additives that could present a risk to health. However, these applications do not take into account the presence of ultra-transformation markers (MUT).
The actors of the food rating

We note that, even if these indices offer a first level of understanding of the composition of products, none fully integrates the nutritional dimension AND the level of processing in its evaluation, which are two major concerns of consumers. To have a complete vision of the positioning of products on the health aspect, it may therefore be interesting for brands and food-processing distributors to carry out a comparative audit of the ratings on each of these tools.

A major challenge: developing a global vision of the health aspect for product reformulation

Many players in the food industry are committed to healthier consumption habits and greater transparency.

We observe that the actions carried out in recent years have primarily focused on improving the Nutri-score, displayed on a growing number of packaging. There are also initiatives related to the banning of the most controversial substances, but few address the more global issues related to the level of processing.

However, such an approach is not neutral when one considers that the search for better nutritional quality can impact the level of processing of the product. To go from a Nutri-Score “B” to “A”, for example, a manufacturer can choose to reduce the quality of salt by adding a preservative, or that of sugar by using a sweetener. From a processing point of view, the quality of the product will thus be degraded.

Agri-food players must therefore develop a global vision of their products on all health dimensions, and make trade-offs, in line with their strategy. Let’s take an example of two very different strategies for the same unit of need: chocolate cookies. Dukan cookies choose a formulation with a Nutri-score A, low in fat and low in sugar but containing ultra-processed ingredients, sweeteners and flavors to enhance the taste. Conversely, Michel & Augustin cookies make the choice of minimally processed and quality ingredients, for example unrefined butter, which earned them a Nutri-score E (very fatty, very sweet) but a cookie recipe. almost “like at home”, little transformed.

Different product composition strategies on all health dimensions depending on the desired objective

Which strategy to choose? We see a need for arbitration in the design and promotion of healthy products. To do this, the players in the food industry must be able to assess their products on all of its “health” dimensions.

In conclusion

More than ever, the search for a healthy diet is at the heart of the concerns of the French, attentive to two key dimensions: nutritional quality and the level of processing of products. To meet these expectations, the agro-food industry has embarked on product reformulation actions, favoring the nutritional dimension echoing the successes of Nutri-Score and Yuka. It seems important to us today to broaden the approach and to think about the “health” equation in a more global way, by imperatively integrating the transformation dimension, under penalty of future food scandals.

Do you want to discuss with the experts in your sector of activity to think about how to approach your product reformulation and promotion strategy? Contact us

An article written by Florence Hirondel and Dramane Coulibaly



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