SINGAPORE: A new nutrition summary label called Nutri-Grade will be introduced from the end of 2021 to help consumers better gauge how healthy pre-packaged drinks are at a glance, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Thursday (Mar 5).
Similar plans are also underway to introduce such labels to freshly-prepared beverages.
Explaining the need for such a move during the ministry’s Committee of Supply debate, Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong said: “Although we have made progress in encouraging Singaporeans to exercise more and eat healthier, our daily sugar intake remains high. In particular, beverages contribute more than half of our sugar intake.”
READ: Diabetes risk, weight gain: The possible bitter effects of too many sugary drinks
The labels on these beverages will be colour-coded A (dark green), B (light green), C (orange) and D (red) based on the amount of sugar and saturated fat they contain.
The dark green A label shows that the beverage contains the lowest sugar and fat thresholds while those with the red D corresponds to the highest sugar and fat thresholds.
“This provides a quick, at-a-glance summary of the nutritional quality of the beverage, allowing consumers to compare across products at the point of purchase,” Mr Tong said.
Besides the grade, the authorities will indicate the sugar level of the beverage as a percentage of the total volume.
This provides consumers with more information so they can compare sugar levels across beverages within the same grade and across different pack sizes, Mr Tong said.
MOH had in October last year said as part of efforts in the battle against a diabetes, a new colour-coded “front-of-pack” nutrition label will be made mandatory for pre-packaged beverages that are high in sugar, and that there will be an advertising ban imposed on beverages that are deemed the most unhealthy and graded the lowest.
It had also previously consulted the public on four possible measures include banning and taxing some pre-packaged sugar-sweetened beverages, in a bid to cut overall sugar intake.
READ: MOH consulting public on banning, taxing some sugary drinks to fight diabetes
READ: Sweeter than soda? The hidden sugars in bubble tea
The display of the label will only be mandatory for pre-packaged beverages that fall under grades C or D; it is voluntary for beverages that achieve the A or B grades.
The authorities said that about 75 per cent of drinks sold fall under grades C and D. One in five drinks falls under the D grade.
Manufacturers would have almost two years to reformulate their products in accordance with these measures, MOH said. The regulations for the measures will be published by the end of 2020, before coming into effect by end-2021.
“This provides sufficient runway for the industry to make the necessary adjustments to comply with the regulations,” MOH said.
The Health Promotion Board (HPB) said that while the authorities will work with manufacturers so their drinks can retain their current Healthier Choice Symbol, there will be a “small groups of products” that may “fall out”.
The grading does not apply to alcoholic beverages.
“The point is not to deprive Singaporeans of their favourite drinks, but by encouraging reformulation, to create a wider and broader range of healthier options,” Mr Tong said.
EXTENDING LABELS TO FRESHLY-PREPARED DRINKS
There are plans to extend the label scheme to freshly-prepared beverages, such as bubble tea. HPB said that while there may be many factors to consider, such as sugar level options, the preparation of such drinks are fairly standardised.
READ: That cup of fresh fruit juice could contain as much sugar as a soft drink
The label will first be applied to large F&B chains that “serve many customers”, MOH said.
“As a start, these measures will apply only to large chains, which are more likely to have consistent recipes, as well as significant reach and impact locally,” Mr Tong said.
Other countries that have introduced mandatory labelling in food and beverage settings have adopted thresholds of between 10 and 20 outlets as their criteria for deciding on the definition of a large chain.
“Taking reference from this, small ‘mom-and-pop’ businesses with one or two stalls, such as those in hawkers centres, will not be affected at the outset,” MOH said.
Mr Tong added that the authorities will monitor the impact of these measures, and may gradually extend them to more establishments.
Over the next few months, MOH and HPB will continue to engage the industry to better understand the issues and determine the appropriate approach to implement the measures, the agencies said.
In a public consultation held between December 2018 and January 2019, MOH received strong feedback on the need to regulate the freshly-prepared beverage sector, it said.
RESTRICTIONS ON ADVERTISING
Grade D beverages will not be able to advertise their drinks across media platforms such as broadcast, cinema, print, out-of-home, on-ground and online and mobile media, MOH said.
They may advertise at points of sale. Examples of points of sale include promotional signage, product displays, and advertisement pop-ups on e-commerce sites.
Advertisements that feature a family of products, including one that is graded D, are also not allowed.
In addition, to encourage the consumption of plain water, the remaining 82 hawker centres will have water dispensers installed by mid-2020. There are currently 30 hawker centres with water dispensers.
Water coolers will also be installed at 14 of the 39 bus interchanges, with plans to install them at Bukit Batok and Woodlands.
“To complement these efforts and encourage Singaporeans to opt for water, HPB will launch a nationwide campaign to promote the consumption of plain water in mid-2020,” MOH said.