Publication in EFFL 1/2017 – The Dutch Go Digital

The year 2017 started with some new and interesting developments in the Netherlands. An old voluntary food labelling scheme is about to be banned and clears the path to a new digital era.

More than a decade ago, the Dutch food industry (and not only the Dutch..) struggled with effects of the Claims Regulation. How could they ever communicate the benefits of a product that does not qualify for a claim, but is still ‘better’ than other products in its category? The food industry itself initiated two logo’s (so-called “Vinkjes”, literally translated: “tick”) that could be used on the packaging of food. The green version of the Vinkje indicates that the product is healthier than other products in its category. The logo is used for “basic” products that are consumed on a daily basis. For example skimmed-milk cheese with less fat or whole wheat bread with less salt. The blue Vinkje on the other hand is used for products that should not be consumed frequently, such as snacks. Products containing this logo are not necessarily healthy choices, but they are the least unhealthy ones. For example a chocolate bar with less calories or a soda with less sugar than other soda’s. To apply for this logo, a specific procedure should be followed, including an assessment by a scientific committee. Result: despite the strict rules of the Claims Regulation, companies could still draw attention to the positive qualities of their products. As a result of negotiations with the food industry, the Dutch government approved of the Vinkjes by law after notifying this to the European Commission.

Goodbye out-dated (?) logo’s!
Over the years, there has been criticism on the Vinkjes. The application procedure would lack transparency, the costs of the application were too high etcetera. In 2016, the Dutch Consumer Association started the campaign: “Exit Vinkje”. According to their own research, the blue and green Vinkje are anything but clear to consumers. The research revealed that 80% of the consumers do not exactly know the exact meaning of the Vinkjes, which leads to the conclusion that the consumers might be misled as regards the characteristics of the product bearing the logo. The research also showed that 85% of the consumers do not know the difference between the blue and the green Vinkje. The finger was also pointed at products targeted at children, which could also have the Vinkjes on the label. Parents could think that the products were a good choice for their children, while in fact the products were (merely) a relatively conscious choice within the category of products at hand. As of 1st of August 2016 the foundation behind the initiative decided to bury the Blue Vinkje altogether. Only the ‘truly’ healthy version, the green version, remained. But not for long. As of 19th of October 2016 the Dutch Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport decided to ban the green Vinkje as well.

Hello, new app with food information!
At the end of the year, the Ministry already announced a replacement for the logo’s. The Ministry is developing a mobile application that can be used and consulted by consumers to get information about the composition and the nutritional value of products. The application should provide objective and clear information in order to allow consumers to choose their products consciously. There are even plans to introduce more options to the app at a later stage, to provide consumers with customized food information. For example: a functionality to compare the characteristics of multiple products. From a legal perspective we are sceptic about the latter initiative, as this opens the door to comparative advertising made by the government. The ministry is also investigating the needs for a logo that can be used in addition to the application.

Expected launch: in the beginning of 2017. Although 2017 is already a few weeks old at time of writing and we still haven’t heard anything about the app, we are wondering if this deadline will be met. As this initiative is quite comprehensive, we are also wondering how this will turn out in practice. Let’s see what 2017 brings!
Sarah Arayess
Hoogenraad & Haak

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