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Explainer: How will nutrition labels for freshly prepared drinks high in sugar and fat content work?

SINGAPORE — Food-and-beverage (F&B) outlets will have to include nutrition labels in their menus for freshly-made sweet drinks with higher levels of sugar and saturated fat come end-2023, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung announced last Thursday (Aug 11).

Explainer: How will nutrition labels for freshly prepared drinks high in sugar and fat content work?
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  • "Larger" food-and-beverage (F&B) outlets will have to include nutrition labels for freshly-made drinks with higher levels of sugar and saturated fat starting end-2023
  • The Nutri-Grade system will be rolled out from Dec 30 for pre-packaged drinks
  • The grades range from A to D, with D being the unhealthiest
  • While experts applauded the extension of the grading to freshly-made drinks, they outlined some implementation difficulties

SINGAPORE — Food-and-beverage (F&B) outlets will have to include nutrition labels in their menus for freshly-made sweet drinks with higher levels of sugar and saturated fat come end-2023, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung announced last Thursday (Aug 11).

The Nutri-Grade system — which will be used to grade pre-packaged drinks from Dec 30 based on their sugar and saturated fats content — will be extended to freshly-made drinks, such as those brewed from coffeeshops, freshly squeezed juices and bubble tea.

The labelling is to “provide Singaporeans with the right information to make their own healthy choices and also at the same time encourage manufacturers to reformulate products and create healthier options,” said then Senior Minister of State for Health Minister Edwin Tong in March 2020 when he announced the scheme.

The grades range from A to D, with D being the unhealthiest.

Those high in sugar and saturated fats will get a C or D rank, requiring them to have a Nutri-Grade label on their packaging. Drinks ranked D will also face advertising restrictions.

The latest move to extend the labels to freshly-made drinks have prompted some sellers of such drinks to ask how the nutrition content will be measured.

In response to queries from TODAY, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Health Promotion Board (HPB) said: “Similar to other jurisdictions that have introduced mandatory labelling, we will consider applying measures to only larger establishments at the start, while exempting smaller establishments serving freshly prepared beverages.

“We will not require all establishments to use laboratory analysis to determine the sugar and saturated fat content of their beverages.”

They added that it is acceptable to grade beverages by estimating their sugar and saturated fat content from individual ingredients in the drink.

“When ready, more details of the measures will be released in the coming months,” said MOH and HPB.

While the grading scheme for pre-packaged drinks was announced in 2020 and will be fully implemented on Dec 30, has it already led to changes in the sugar levels of such drinks?

And with the scheme to be implemented for freshly made drinks, how will that affect consumers and F&B operators?


In announcing the extension of the Nutri-Grade system to freshly-made drinks, Mr Ong noted that the prevalence of diabetes in Singapore has stayed “quite consistent” over the years, and the long-term action to tackle the issue is through early detection and preventive care.

One key risk for diabetes is obesity, and the World Health Organization (WHO) has called on countries to reduce individual’s intake of sugar.

“Today, more than half of Singaporeans’ daily sugar intake comes from beverages, of which prepacked beverages, for example, can and packet drinks, contribute nearly two-thirds,” he said.

While the Nutri-Grade system will be fully implemented for pre-packaged drinks at the end of this year, Mr Ong noted there has been “positive response from the demand and supply sides of the industry”.

The median sugar level of pre-packaged beverages has been reduced from 7.1 per cent in 2017 to 4.7 per cent in 2021 as producers reformulate their beverages ahead of the effective date of measures, he said.

He also noted that the sale of pre-packaged drinks with sugar content that would categorise them in grades C and D have fallen from 63 per cent in 2017 to 40 per cent in 2021.

“Conversely, sales of beverages with less than 5 per cent sugar content have gone up from 37 per cent to 60 per cent over the same period,” said Mr Ong.


Ms Samantha Chan, a marketing and digital communications lecturer from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP)'s School of Business Management, said that the Nutri-Grade scheme would help consumers of freshly-made drinks make better choices.

“The labelling could help increase awareness on the sugar content for such drinks, and make consumers more conscious of what they consume. This approach will support the ministry’s goal to educate consumers in the long run," she said.

She echoed the sentiments of other nutritionists and marketing experts, who noted that consumer awareness will help them make a better choice.

Associate Professor Zhang Kuangjie from the Nanyang Business School noted that the labelling will provide greater transparency on the nutritional contents of freshly-made drinks, such as hidden sugars.

“For example, some consumers may not know that a (cup of) bubble tea with the lowest sugar level could still contain a lot of sugar because of the other contents, such as syrup and condensed milk,” he said. 

However, experts also noted there will be some challenges in changing consumer behaviour and helping F&B outlets adapt to the new rules.

Ms Chan noted that the change may not work on some consumers who buy sweet beverages on a regular basis.

To overcome this, she suggested adopting strategies such as gamification, which can encourage consumers to make the healthier switch through engagement.

Assoc Prof Zhang also said that a higher Nutri-Grade mark may not equate to a healthier choice, and may result in pushback from F&B outlets.

“For example, a zero-sugar soda drink (with a possible Nutri-Grade of B) is not necessarily healthier than a 100 per cent fresh orange juice (with a possible Nutri-Grade of D),” he said, adding that the authorities should consider incorporating other nutritional dimensions into the scheme.

In response to such concern from a public consultation on the grading scheme in 2020, MOH and HPB emphasised that the scheme is focused on sugar and saturated fat content, and that the scheme will work together with public education efforts to promote healthier diets.

“MOH and HPB recognise the nutritional benefits of full-fat milk and 100 per cent juices, and intend to highlight these as part of our public educational efforts,” they said, in response to comments regarding these two pre-packaged drinks.

Ms Claudine Loong, a food science and nutrition lecturer from Nanyang Polytechnic’s School of Applied Science, pointed out that businesses selling fruit juices may struggle with the new scheme as they may be unable to cut down on sugar content.

“For fruit juices prepared by juicing or blending the fruit itself, it is quite impossible to cut down on the sugar content, as it is natural-occurring within the fruit itself,” she said.

In contrast, it is easier to reduce the total sugar or fat of other high fat or sweetened beverages by reducing the addition of full-fat whipped cream, flavoured and sweetened syrups, sugars or bubble tea pearls.

“Due to the sensory properties of fats and sugar, the removal of these ingredients would also affect the texture and nature of the beverages, such as milkshakes and yoghurt drinks,” Ms Loong added.

However, she acknowledged that this may raise awareness that fresh fruit juices and fruit-based drinks are not “as healthy as they look” because of their high level of sugar.

Associate Professor of Marketing Education at Singapore Management University Seshan Ramaswami also noted that the authorities will need to help coffee shops standardise their sugar usage.

For example, he noted the term siu dai (less sugar) can indicate different amounts depending on the tea or coffee maker.

“The burden of course is on drink stall operators who now have to be a bit more careful (in) understanding the specifications of the different labels and ensuring consistency across time and location in maintaining the same level,” he said.

“I’m hopeful that they will get some help from the HPB or other associations in being able to accurately mark their menus, and then devise ways of delivering the promised grade of sugar content.”

He also noted that chain drink operators — which rely on their multiple locations, and marketing and branding efforts to attract customers — will have to be more cautious with their marketing efforts.

“They may not be able to feature the most indulgent and attractive looking variants, for example, drinks with huge toppings of fudge or whipped cream, and will have to be a bit more alert in their advertising,” he said, adding they have to ensure their drinks do not fall into the grade D zone.

He also noted that aside from advertising, the display of drinks at the point of purchase can influence consumers’ decisions, and this may be difficult to regulate. 

“The schemes can only be effective if there is enforcement that requires periodic checks which may necessitate random sampling of drinks from various operators on a continual basis to ensure that the labels continue to be accurate,” he said.

Related topics

drinks F&B sugar MOH HPB diabetes

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