Food & Drink

Tech tool Yuka gives transparency to complicated ingredient lists

Consumers are increasingly seeking cleaner ingredient decks and better-for-you options. Tech platform Yuka aims to help them make better purchasing decisions by cutting through the noise.

Many companies have introduced healthier options to their product lineup, such as Pure Leaf’s zero-sugar sweet tea category and Nestle investors recently urged the company to increase the percentage of sales from unhealthy products to attract a broader range of consumers. However, many food labels, healthy or not, contain ingredients that are challenging to read and comprehend.

Julie Chapon, founder and CEO of Yuka believes that technology is the key to empowering consumers to make more informed food purchasing decisions.

According to a recent survey from One Pill in collaboration with Yuka — Forty-six percent of Americans believe there is significant room for improvement in understanding food labels. An overwhelming majority of consumers check food labels before purchasing products — 21% indicated they always do it; 32% often; and 32% sometimes.

Thirty-nine percent of respondents in the survey said food manufacturers are not transparent when it comes to food labeling, and 55% of them are likely to seek additional information online or through other sources. 

Yuka has had great success throughout the EU, even leading some companies to reformulate Since its launch in January 2017, the app has gained 20 million users people in France. 

How it works

Yuka first launched in the U.S. in 2020 and has experienced significant growth in the past two years, according to Chapon. 

“There is a huge demand for more information and transparency on food products, and the app has seen around 600,000 new users every month, just from word of mouth,” she said in an interview with Food Dive. 

Yuka scans the barcode of a product, and then analyzes the product through a color coding system that goes from green to red. Consumers have the option to access more details about the product like its organic components, nutritional value, and additives. If a food comes up as ‘red’ the app will provide similar alternatives that have a cleaner food label. 

The idea for Yuka came from co-founder Benoit Martin in 2016 when he was looking for better food products for his two children. 

When trying to decipher information on food labels, Martin realized that it was complicated. “There are a lot of complicated words on the ingredients lists and there are a lot of values and we don’t have a reference scale to analyze them,” said Chapon. 

“We thought it would be amazing to have a tool that simply gives you the information if a product is good or bad.”

The idea is not to steer consumers clear from indulgent treats and processed foods, but instead to inform them, and offer alternatives. 

The app also works independently and doesn’t partner with specific brands or companies. 

Chapon said the app has three sets of criteria it goes through before giving a food product a rating — nutritional quality, the amount of additives and the organic component. 

Working with the FDA

Since its venture into the U.S. market, Chapon is hopeful that the app will have the same impact as it did in Europe.

“We’ve seen that food manufacturers can be motivated to respond to labeling rules by reformulating their foods to create healthier products,” said current FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf in a statement. 

Dr. Califf, a cardiologist, emphasized the importance of better nutrition labeling for consumer health in making better food choices. But 36% of Americans believe the FDA prioritizes financial interests of manufacturers over consumer health. 

“The FDA announcing that they are working on the labeling system is really good news, because that’s what happened in Europe almost 10 years ago now,” said Chapon. “It’s really important for consumers to have access to more transparent and clear information because many think that regulators prioritize financial interests over health.” 

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