Drink manufacturers rolling out Nutri-Grade label ahead of Dec 30 deadline

Beverages with the Nutri-Grade label seen on a supermarket shelf on Dec 2, 2022. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - Several drink manufacturers have changed their recipes to cut sugar and saturated fat, and introduced nutrition labels on their pre-packaged drinks well ahead of the year-end deadline.

From Dec 30, pre-packaged drinks with higher sugar and saturated fat content must be labelled with a Nutri-Grade mark in a scheme announced by the Health Ministry in 2019.

The mark comprises four grades classifying drinks from A to D, with D being the unhealthiest.  The products include fruit juices and juice drinks, soft drinks, milk and yogurt drinks, and instant powdered beverages.

Beverages that are rated C and D, the unhealthiest grades, must carry the Nutri-Grade label and those with a D label cannot be advertised on any media platform.

The move to introduce new labelling regulations is part of a national effort to help people keep unhealthy diets in check and prevent diseases such as diabetes.

Checks by The Straits Times show some manufacturers have already rolled out products with the Nutri-Grade label.

On FairPrice’s website, 77 of 124 juices under the chilled beverage section are labelled, of which one is graded B, 40 are graded C, and the rest graded D.

Grade B means the drinks have between 1g and 5g of sugar per 100ml, or 0.7g to 1.2g of saturated fat per 100ml.

Those in the C range have between 5g and 10g of sugar per 100ml, or 1.2g to 2.8g of saturated fat per 100ml.

Supermarket chains including Sheng Siong, FairPrice and DFI Retail Group, which manages Giant and Cold Storage, said some products with the labels are already available in stores.

The Health Promotion Board said the authorities will conduct checks to ensure the new labelling regulations are being followed, and that companies are responsible for applying the Nutri-Grade marks to their products.

Drink manufacturers told ST that they had adopted the new labelling regulations in advance, so they would have enough time to manage their product lines and label their products. 

They also said they had invested a substantial amount of money and effort to label their beverages to comply with the scheme, as well as to reformulate their drinks to make it into the healthier categories. 

Gourmet Supplies, a local manufacturer of bottled tea beverage Haus Brew, spent about $50,000 and six months carrying out research and development and lab tests, and relabelling its products, to ensure that they were in line with the new regulations. Of its 16 products, six are now rated B and the others C. 

“We have observed positive responses from our customers, with close to a 20 per cent increase in sales with the newly refreshed bottle labels which carry the Nutri-Grade mark, which we believe is a result of consumers being able to make more informed choices,” said its managing director, Mr Tan Kok Ting.

Yeo’s chief marketing officer Ang Chong Lee said reformulating a beverage is a fairly complex process that is costly and time-consuming.

He said the company started by reviewing products for their taste, nutritional profile, sugar content and consumer demand. Those that needed reformulation often called for new ingredients.

“Removing sugar from a herbal product may mean replacing it with more herbs so that the taste is not compromised,” said Mr Ang.

“At this stage, considerations will include cost, supply chain management and manufacturing assessment.”

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Once the product is reformulated, it goes on a pilot trial to test consumer reactions and for necessary adjustments, he added, noting that all of Yeo’s products will be in the A and B range from 2023.

Juice cordial maker Asia Farm said 58 per cent of its products were rated C or D in 2022, down from 90 per cent in 2018.

The company, which supplies juice concentrates to restaurants and caterers, said customers are increasingly asking for lower-sugar options as people become more health-conscious. 

But manager Wong Loke Hsien said it is difficult to remove sugar for some of its products, citing as an example a calamansi concentrate in the D range.

“We use freshly squeezed juice for the mouthfeel, so we need more sugar to balance out the acidity,” said Mr Wong, adding that consumers have the option of adding more water to the concentrate so it is less sweet. 

The Nutri-Grade labels on drinks are part of a national effort to help people keep unhealthy diets in check. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Another drink manufacturer, Pokka Singapore, said more than half of its products are rated A and B.

Retired businessman Sam Tan, 60, said he began noticing the label on some pre-packaged drinks in the past month. 

“I find the label useful because it helps me to decide which drinks are healthy or unhealthy,” he said. 

The Health Ministry says Singaporeans consume on average 60g, or 12 teaspoons of sugar, a day. More than half of this comes from beverages, especially pre-packaged drinks.

Before making the decision to introduce the new labelling regulations, the ministry said it considered feedback from the public, industry and expert stakeholders, and reviewed existing overseas and local evidence.

Non-compliance with the new provisions will constitute an offence punishable with a fine not exceeding $1,000, once they come into effect. In the case of a second or subsequent conviction, the fine may go up to $2,000.

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