Giki’s aim is to inspire people to make small, regular changes which are good for them, better for the environment and fairer to others. We also look to make small, regular changes to the Giki app to help support our users in their quest to become more sustainable consumers. Here we talk about some of the most recent changes at Giki. We know we will never be perfect, but we hope that by constantly listening to our users and improving we’ll get better and better over time.

What’s in a portion?

It’s very hard to find a single measure that tells you whether something is healthy or not. Sugar vs fat, calories vs nutrition, processed vs simple not to mention your overall diet compared to the odd indulgence makes it a real challenge. However, the UK government’s front of pack labelling does help to cut through all the information with a simple traffic light colours for fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt.

Giki uses these guidelines for our Healthier Option badge but portion size can be a challenge. The guidelines suggest that once a product’s portion size goes over a certain amount (e.g. 150ml for drink) then per portion information is more relevant than the easier to compare per 100g or per 100ml. Sounds sensible – the fact that a can ok Coca Cola contains 35g of sugar, whilst 100ml has 10.6g, is surely more relevant as most people don’t split a can between 3 people.

However, Giki is sometimes faced with the issue that the portion size is not listed in the data we look at. As a result we either try and infer the portion size from other data but, if that does not work, we now assume that 250ml is a reasonable average portion size to use. We’d prefer companies to always state what the correct portion size is but, failing that, we hope it’s a good approximation.

Our research into drink portion size has also highlighted that it’s something to look out for if you are using the front of pack traffic lights. For example most fruit juices assume a portion size of just 150ml, bottles of fizzy drinks almost always assume that you’ll only drink half (and share the rest?) and alcoholic drinks don’t yet have to tell you anything (although this looks set to change in 2018).

Bananas from the UK?

You may have noticed on product packaging that there is an increasing focus on “country of origin” as well as other marketing information that talks about the provenance of what you are about to buy. This is because more and more consumers care about where the products they are buying come from with an increasing preference for local and UK made produce.

What you may not know is that behind that information there are clear rules about what companies can, and cannot say, and sometimes it is not what consumers might expect. For example, the country of origin should be the place of last “substantial change” but that might include packaging up some bananas. The guidelines suggest this is ok because “it is obvious to the consumer that certain ingredients cannot come from the country in question” but we are not so sure that every person knows exactly which countries something can be grown in. With climate change it becomes even harder!

What we have therefore assumed is that products which are made / produced / brewed / baked etc in the UK can be defined as local but where a product has only been packed in the UK, and that product is a single ingredient, then it’s hard to argue it’s a UK product. Tea, coffee, peanuts, rice are all good examples. This does not mean they are not great products for your store cupboard and many of them are Fairtrade, organic and healthy but it does mean that we don’t think we can say they are local. Some areas are harder (for example a chocolate bar can be processed in the UK with many other added ingredients, but the cocoa will not be UK grown) and over time we hope to improve our rating for products with ingredients from different areas.

Add your own products

Feedback from our users has been clear – they want to add products not found to the Giki data. At the moment we believe that we cover the vast majority of products you can buy in the supermarket but Giki’s coverage is far less good for smaller independent shops as well as the discount supermarkets (Lidl and Aldi).

This is an area where our users can make a huge difference and so from today this feature has been introduced. However, it also requires committed Giki users to help us out! The form to get started is here and we know it’s not for the faint hearted. However, the more you can help, the better the data will be and the more you’ll be supporting the whole Giki community.

Recycling – beyond the label

Recycle Now (from WRAP) has arguably done more for UK recycling than any other organisation. You can see their guidance on many of the items you buy (for example if you see a phrase such as “card – widely recycled” or a logo like the one below) but not all manufacturer’s follow their simple and clear guidance.

For example, many glass bottles have no recycling information on at all. Perhaps people should just know but with container glass recycling at just 50% (and most of it can be recycled and reused in the UK unlike many plastics) it seems that people could benefit from a little more information. That’s why we now look at the pack, as well as the Recycle Now information, to judge whether you can recycle. However, always check before you throw not only to make sure but also because many councils have different rules.

Additives – fortifiers and store cupboard ingredients

Additives, or E Numbers, are substances added to food often to preserve the taste or flavour or to provide the food with other attractive properties. The Food Standards Agency defines them as “any substance not normally consumed as a food in itself and not normally used as a characteristic ingredient of food…”. There are now hundreds of additives that have been approved in the EU each of which has to be researched, and tested for potentially harmful effects, before being added to what we eat and drink. In a future blog we’ll look at this process in more detail especially as it relates to animal testing.

Meanwhile most consumers don’t have the time or inclination to remember all the names from Acesulfame K to Xanthan gum and so prefer instead to buy products that are simply “free from additives”. Sometimes labelling on the pack might not be totally helpful for these consumers (free from artificial colours for example can still mean a product contains many additives and many E numbers themselves are natural ingredients as well) and so Giki has tried to provide an intuitive middle way.

With the latest version rather than having a blanket “no badge” to all products with additives in we make an exception if they are fortifiers (e.g. Riboflavin, B2) or common store cupboard ingredients (e.g. baking powder) then we still award the badge. Expect to see more cereals (which add vitamins) and fruit juices (which add ascorbic acid which is found in citric fruits) getting the healthier option badge.

New logos

At Giki we rely on best-in-class independent certification for some of our badges. Our main considerations are whether a badge comes from an organisation that is independent, transparent about their ratings and robust in their methodology. Consumer acceptance also helps. As a result we have added USDA Organic to the organic badge. USDA is run by the US Department of Agriculture, follows a number of rules which are similar to UK bodies (no GMO, organic pesticides only) and has strict certification criteria. This makes it a natural badge to add to those we already look for.

Chemicals of concern

In the latest update to Giki we have made changes to our chemicals of concern list. We continue to use three main sources (Breast Cancer UK, EWG and David Suzuki) and have removed some ingredients from the list which we were concerned were excluding too many products without clear scientific evidence or consumer preferences. Many of these are complex areas (such as parfum or fragrances where we don’t necessarily know the underling ingredients which could argue for exclusion based on transparency, but inclusion based on the risk of false negatives) and we continue to look for ways to improve the list over time. Chemicals are an especially challenging area given the many thousands of potential ingredients and we are actively looking for an expert to join the Giki’s advisors to support our work in this area. If you know anyone then please contact us.