It’s a pity the Checkmark will disappear, says Kees de Graaf, chairman of the scientific committee responsible. He fears that companies will not be stimulated to make healthy products anymore.
Photo: TV programme Zondag met Lubach made a satiric sketch about the Checkmark (screenshot)
Last week, Edith Schippers, Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, announced that the Checkmark will disappear. The certification mark – which was used by 90 companies on about 7,000 products – will be phased out over the next 12 months. The Checkmark will eventually be replaced by a mobile application that will provide ‘objective and clear information’.
There has been some controversy around the Checkmark for a while. A movement that was strengthened in March 2016, when the Consumentenbond, the Dutch consumers’ organisation, started the campaign Weg met het Vinkje (‘Down with the Checkmark’). Based on its own research, the organisation concluded that the certification mark is confusing. One of the reasons would be the existence of two concurrent logos. A green checkmark for healthy products that are part the food pyramid, such as wholemeal bread or fruit. Its blue counterpart indicates the healthier choices from the non-essential food groups, such as low-calorie sodas, or snacks with less saturated fats or salt. In April, the Consumentenbond, assisted by Wageningen professor Bernd van der Meulen, signed a formal protest against the granting of the certification.
The fact that the certification will now actually disappear was an unexpected blow for De Graaf, Professor in Sensory Science and Eating Behaviour at Wageningen University & Research (WUR). ‘I do not think that the disappearance of the Checkmark is a positive development. Especially as it will not be replaced by anything similar.’
De Graaf acknowledges that the Checkmark had some weak points. Only a part of the food producers had joined in, for example. This sometimes caused only one of many similar products to have a certification mark. The existence of two logos also caused confusion.
But according to De Graaf, the establishment responsible, Ik kies bewust, had carefully listened to the criticism and was working on redesigning the mark. One of the changes would be the withdrawal of the blue checkmark. Discussions were held about ways to involve more producers. According to him, the Consumentenbond’s attitude in not very constructive. ‘It is a lot easier to kill off something than to help build it up.’
The Consumentenbond believes the certification mark was given ample time to prove itself, says spokesperson Babs van der Staak. ‘We have been constructive and have expressed criticism for years before we decided that it would be better for the Checkmark to disappear.’ The organisation itself is a supporter of a traffic light system. This system, which is similar to the British one in design, uses colours to indicate whether a product contains unhealthy amounts of salt, fat or sugar.
De Graaf does not expect such a traffic light system to be implemented anytime soon. Besides, he sees plenty of challenges in that system; for example, sweet drinks would get a green light with relation to salt and fat. The professor fears that the disappearance of the Checkmark will lead to a decrease in healthy innovations. He still has full confidence in the best-in-class approach of the blue Checkmark. This rewards the trendsetters who are able to remove relatively much salt, sugar and fat from their products. Van der Staak, in turn, says that it is ‘ridiculous’ that such a stimulus would be necessary to motivate producers.
However, there is one thing that both parties agree on. A mobile application alone is not sufficient to inform consumers about healthy food. ‘If someone is standing in the supermarket and has to choose from ten kinds of salad dressing, I don’t expect them to scan all ten of them’, says De Graaf. Van der Staak also sees the application as an addition to the informative labelling on the product at most. A committee that includes Hans van Trijp, Professor in Marketing and Consumer Behaviour at the WUR, is currently considering a suitable replacement.