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  • Hugo Walker

Revolutionising nutrition and environmental messaging via apps

New apps, such as Yuka, Giki and Setai, are revolutionising the way that consumers can access information about the nutritional, environmental and ethical status of their food.

Nutrition messaging on packaging is notoriously confusing. Health claims are often vague and open to consumer interpretation. For instance, the implication of a “low in sugar” product is that it is a healthier option, yet the rest of the ingredients may not be healthy at all. A pack of avocados may have a red score on the traffic light system for fat, while a product without any micronutrients at all may get all greens. Nutrition claims are often merely marketing tactics, and many producers have no genuine interest in the health status of their product.

In the face of difficult on-pack nutrition messaging, apps such as Yuka strive to present a products’ nutritional status in a straightforward, impartial and easy format. With more accessible information, more informed and purposeful choices can be made by consumers about their health and diet. Yuka currently enables 1.5 million products to be scanned, 70 per cent of which are food and drinks, and the other 30 per cent cosmetics.

Headed up by Julie Chapon and brothers Benoit and Francois Martin, the app currently has over 10 million users across Europe. Yuka helps consumers avoid getting “lost in the dietary jungle trying to decipher every label”, according to Ms Chapon.

“Consumers are asking for more transparency,” added Ms Chapon. “All the food scandals over the past years have fuelled mistrust of consumers towards the food industry, so they use Yuka to go beyond marketing and check what really goes into the products.”

Combatting greenwashing

Similarly, making environmentally sound and sustainable consumer choices are even more difficult. Considering all factors that go into a product - such as energy and water usage, packaging and monocultures — verges on impossible for the individual consumer. Greenwashing - advertising that builds a false image of sustainability — distorts the choices of well-intentioned customers, who often pay more in the hopes of having less impact on the climate.

The app Giki helps bridge this information gap, by “helping people live more sustainably through finding ‘better’ products – better defined as more sustainable”, according to principal Ian Yates. Through fourteen criteria, such as use of palm oil, animal welfare, chemical contents, and recyclable packaging, Giki scores products on their sustainability. Giki also suggests alternative products to shoppers, to make finding environmentally-friendly brands that much easier. Meanwhile, an ‘Impact Score’ is in the works, which will rate the brand on ethical practices, including labour conditions.

Giki co-founder James Hand commented: “Bringing together our two applications will provide consumers with 360-degree insight into the ethical and sustainable credentials of products, manufacturers and retailers. With this information to hand, people can really change how they live and influence businesses’ behaviour.”

A rival app, Setai, focuses primarily on creating transparency between products and their carbon emissions. A scanned product will form a percentage of a daily carbon emissions budget. Easy-to-understand comparisons, such as distance driven by a car, illustrate the carbon emissions of products.

Setai founder Edoardo Danieli said: “As customers, we have the power to steer the political agenda and promote sustainable products. In order to do so, we need to know the environmental impact of what we buy, especially food. Users are willing to change their behaviour to make more sustainable choices. But there is a lack of information regarding the impact on the environment of what they buy.”

The power of a third party

Part of the difficulty with reliable nutritional and environmental labelling is the complete lack of impartiality. Food producers want their product to sell, and in turn, their advertisement appeals to current trends - regardless of the content of the product.

In contrast, apps such as Yuka, Giki and Setai have no vested interests in the products. Consumers can trust in them as an impartial third party.

Mr Yates commented: “Every ad is about how green a product is, and people don’t know who to trust. They are looking for a credible, independent source of data from a company who cares about the same things they do.”

With greater transparency which the likes of Yuka, Giki and Setai are providing, consumers are able to make choices which better mirror their values and nutritional needs. The responsibility of the climate crisis and the ethical practices of firms cannot be reduced to individual consumer choices, but holding brands and retailers accountable to become more consistent with the promises of their marketing is an important start.


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