French app Yuka brings power to people in the supermarket aisle


In France, “Big Ham” has taken on a courageous start-up called Yuka that operates a popular smartphone app, which aims to empower health-conscious consumers.

Installed by 24 million users, the Yuka application allows them to scan the barcode of packaged foods to obtain a score out of 100 that reflects the nutritional value of the product as well as its impact on the environment, from carbon emissions to packaging. Since its founding by Julie Chapon with brothers Benoit and François Martin in 2017, Yuka has spread to 12 countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States.

However, the transparency provided by the application was not welcomed by FICT, a professional group representing 300 French charcuterie manufacturers. He filed a lawsuit against Yuka, alleging he had “denigrated” his members’ products by giving them low ratings if they contain nitrates, a preservative that helps protect shelf life and color. In 2015, the World Health Organization declared that nitrates in processed meats were likely carcinogenic to humans.

The fact that the industry has released heavy artillery against Yuka is a sign of the threat this type of technological tool may pose to businesses today. By simplifying a lot of complex issues like nutrition or pollution, they allow people to put their money where they say it is.

Yuka and similar apps, such as Fooducate in the United States or ToxFox in Germany, have filled a void left by regulators who have the power to require product labeling. While mandatory nutrition labeling of calories, protein, sugar and fat has been in place for decades in many countries, the area of ​​environmental labeling is much less developed. There are a few emerging programs but they remain largely voluntary.

In an age when consumers, especially young people, really care about climate change and sustainability, apps like Yuka give them a way to alert companies to the types of ingredients or environmental practices that they don’t. will accept more. This creates a powerful feedback loop that can sometimes trigger change faster than regulation, especially when strong lobbying interests limit government action.

Take the French supermarket chain Intermarché. She said she would reformulate 900 recipes for food products sold under her private labels to improve their Yuka scores by either removing 142 additives or cutting back on sugar and salt.

From left to right, the co-founders of Yuka Benoit Martin, François Martin and Julie Chapon

Food companies have long reformulated their products in response to government labeling requirements – just look at how makers of packaged cookies and breads cut back on trans fats in the United States in the early 2000s. exposure provided by Yuka and others is different as it cannot be slowed down or influenced by lobbying.

When Yuka started evaluating beauty products, Mathilde Thomas, the founder of own beauty brand Caudalie, was inspired to take action. She accelerated a plan to eliminate silicones and PEGs, or petroleum-based compounds, from Caudalie’s moisturizers and cleansers. “Yuka has actually been good for us because it has brought us new customers by highlighting how we differ from traditional cosmetic brands,” Thomas said, although she admitted to having disagreements with Yuka over the risks posed by certain ingredients.

French ham makers clearly take a different approach with Yuka – that of open warfare. They recently won a first trial in Paris after a judge ordered Yuka to remove any mention of the health risks posed by nitrates from the app and fined her € 20,000.

“They are trying to silence us but we are not afraid,” said Chapon. Yuka plans to appeal, but Chapon admits the lawsuits could bankrupt the startup if the judges side with the FICT’s claims for millions in damages.

Chapon suspects that deli brands are not only annoyed by the nitrate problem, but also by Yuka’s latest feature, known as Eco-Score, which recently launched in France. The result of two years of work in collaboration with scientists from the French government and 10 partner organizations, the Eco-Score assigns a rating to foods from the letter A to E according to their environmental impact.

Meat products, by definition, couldn’t achieve the highest green rating, Chapon said, due to greenhouse gas emissions generated by livestock.

Even though Chapon can defend Yuka this time around, the industry backlash is a reminder of how much consumer pressure can go. For real change to occur in the fight against obesity and climate change, nothing like a big stick wielded by effective regulators.

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About Nunnally Maurice

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