Grocery shopping often comes with its own set of challenges, especially when trying to balance healthy choices with food that you actually want to eat. This was the motivation behind Benoit Martin’s Yuka, a mobile app that scans barcodes on food and cosmetics to give users a quick color-coded score out of 100. Using Yuka is simple; all you need to do is open the app, tap scan, and point it at the barcode. A quick glance at the results will show whether the product is potentially bad for you (green is good, red is bad), and a breakdown explains the score and offers alternative suggestions.
Co-founder Julie Chapon remarked that the growing demand for transparency in products is creating ample space for competition. She observed that while most food analysing apps assess nutritional quality, none look at additives in both food and cosmetics – an untapped area.
Sourced directly from Yukas website, the following explains exactly how products are scored:
Yuka’s food product scores are based on three criteria:
• Nutritional quality is 60% of the score.
The calculation is based on the Nutri-Score method. This method takes the following elements into account: calories, sugar, salt, saturated fats, protein, fiber, fruits and vegetables. A precise description of the method is available here.
Yuka supplemented the Nutri-Score method to give it more depth and avoid Nutri-Score’s threshold effects, which can accentuate score deviations between two products with similar nutrition facts.
• The presence of additives is 30% of the score.
Benchmarks are based on the latest scientific research. We take into account the recommendations of the EFSA, and the IARC, in addition to numerous independent studies.
Every additive is assigned a risk level based on various existing studies: risk-free (green dot), limited risk (yellow dot), moderate risk (orange dot), hazardous (red dot).
If an additive we consider to be hazardous is present, the maximum score for the product is set at 49/100. In this case, this criterion can represent more than 30% of the score.
Information about the risks associated with each additive, as well as the corresponding scientific sources, are available in the application.
• The organic dimension is 10% of the score.
This is a bonus granted to products considered organic, i.e. those with an official national or international organic label. They avoid chemical pesticides which can pose a health risk.
Since its launch in 2017, Yuka has become increasingly popular, with over 30 million downloads and 6 million active users. After using Yuka for a while, users may became more aware of the unpleasant substances lurking in their weekly shop. The ratings encouraged them to switch to healthier foods and sent them down some research rabbit holes to learn more about potentially hazardous chemicals in cosmetics.
Yuka evaluates the health impact of scanned products based on their content and colour codes them from green to red. If a product has a negative score, the app provides healthy alternative recommendations. The app also considers potential harmful additives, such as E950 (Acesulfame K). If you would like to dig into the research, Yuka provides links to papers. For cosmetics, the app assesses potential effects on health and the environment, looking at endocrine disruption, carcinogenicity, allergenicity, irritants, and pollution. It recognises over 70% of products in its applicable countries. The great thing is, if a product is not in the database, you are prompted to take a photo of the item and the nutrition panel and Yuka will provide an analysis within seconds!
In a survey of around 200,000 users, Yuka found over 90% either stopped buying particular products or even put a product back if it received a red rating on the app. It definitely made us think twice!
Yuka is an independent company that makes money through book and calendar sales, a nutrition program, and premium app subscriptions. It does not accept any advertising money, and none of its scores or recommendations are influenced by brands. The company also insists that its products are safe and have been stringently tested for safety according to standards. With no in-app ads, the app does not receive funding or money from brands, instead relying on its paid version for revenue. This paid version offers several extra features, such as a search bar, dietary preferences and offline mode.
The app’s popularity has already made an impact in abroad; supermarket chain Intermarche, a French corporation, announced the reformulation of 900 recipes for its own brand products to remove additives and cut sugar and salt. Some brands are now seeking Yuka scores for products in development, with a view to improving them before release. Overall, Yuka can help users make better choices for people and the planet, and apply some pressure to industries that often put profits before health.
The ultimate aim of Yuka is to render themselves obsolete, as manufacturers take measures to ensure the quality and healthfulness of their products.
The app is available for Android and iOS and can be found by searching ‘Yuka’.