‘A snack is a snack, not a meal replacement’: UPFs, Nutri Score, the EC elections, regulations and other issues impacting the European snacks sector

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags European Snacks Association SNACKEX European commission elections Ultra-processed food nutri-score Acrylamide Green Deal

A major concern for the European Snacks Association (ESA) is the debate over ultra processed foods (UPFs), which director general Sebastian Emig believes is not based on scientific fact and is causing confusion among consumers. We caught up with him at Snackex to find out how changes in the European Commission (EC) could impact regulations.

“One key concern for us – and I think for many other industries in the food sector – is ultra processed foods, which is a term that is not scientifically fine. There are no definitions and it’s popping up left and right: consumers are confused. It’s being used in a quite inflationary manner; however, no one has [made moves to reign it in] with cornerstones that say, ‘this is it or not’,” Emig told Bakery&Snacks at the bi-annual show, which this year, was held in Stockholm, Sweden.

“We would like to address that. Foods for thousands of years have been processed to enhance their benefits, for food safety and to ensure people have access to shelf-stable products.”

ESA is currently working with FoodDrinkEurope to develop a definition to explain to consumers that when, for instance, “you grab a yogurt, it’s fermented milk, which is processed as well.”

Emig believes the debate has, however, peaked and will “die down over the next couple of years. It’s not as ‘in vogue’ as it has been over the past two years.”

UPFs, though, is still very much on ESA’s radar, as are processed contaminants like acrylamide and glycoalkaloids, Nutri Score and the implementation of the new regulations that are coming in with the Green Deal to “create guidelines not only for our members, but as a free resource for non-members as well for the entirety of the snacks sector to thrive. We are very keen to represent the sector in a very intelligible and responsible way,” said Emig.

Bringing the snacks industry up to date on acrylamide

At Snackex, ESA scientific and regulatory affairs manager Andrew Curtis brought attendees up to date on the acrylamide state-of-play.​ The naturally-occurring chemical compound that forms in carb-rich foods like potato chips and pretzels during high-temperature cooking processes such as frying, baking and roasting is an ongoing concern for the salty snacks sector.

Regarding Nutri Score, he said some companies have implemented the scheme, while others are waiting for the enhanced version, which the European Commission has “put on the back panel. We understand that some government organizations would like to take that and wrap a European regulation around it to make it implementable across all Member States.

“I have my personal opinion about the Nutri Score and think there are many other food labeling schemes around that could help consumers understand how a product is placed in their daily diets. Frankly, if you live a healthy lifestyle, balance is the key. And the current regulation that we have – the food information to consumers [FIC Regulation, which has been in place since December 13, 2016] – is enough for consumers to understand what they are consuming.”

What is expected to change?

Businessman wrapped up in red tape Getty sidneybernstein
Pic: GettyImages/sidneybernstein

All these issues are being revisited with a new European Commission (EC) on the cusp of being installed for the next five years. Alongside the endorsement of Ursula von der Leyen for a potential second term as president, the European Council is expected to adopt a new set of priorities.

“I think for it’s going to be less challenging in the next five years as it has been,” Emig told this site.

“There have been some restrictive measures in the past five years where the food industry – not only the snacks sector – have had to put our foot down to say, ‘be reasonable and sensible, otherwise you’re just going to kill innovation. You are not going to create a competitive marketplace within Europe. The single market needs to be competitive to global competitors.’

“There’s still going to be challenges – we’ll see what comes out – but I think the focus will shift more towards an industry-friendly climate and on competitiveness on a global scale, so I think we’re going to have more opportunities.”

He added, “We will still need to reach out to those groups that are a bit off the middle spectrum of the scale, but with between 50% and 60% of new members of the European Parliament, that allows us over the next five years to create contact with these new people to make them understand that ‘a snack is a snack is a snack’. We don’t want it to be a meal replacement. We’re all for moderation – for a balanced and healthy lifestyle a snack fits into.

“Some members of Parliament are not aware of that as yet, so for us, it’s a perfect opportunity to make them aware where we place our products in the daily lives of consumers.”

ESA’s advocacy role

Advocacy groups with hands together Getty Luis Alvarez
Pic: GettyImages/Luis Alvarez

This underscores the important role that ESA plays in lobbying Parliament.

“We were not involved actively in the process of the elections, but we keep our members abreast of where the trends are going, what is happening in Parliament, what is happening in the Commission, is President von der Leyen still going to be proposed for a second time proposed and so forth,” said Emig.

“After the elections, as I said, we’re going to actively approach the new members and re-engage with our old friends in order to create a sentiment for the industry and not let them fall into the traps where they say, ‘well, who needs snacks in their life?’.

“I don't like the term ‘educate’, but we will open dialogue. We listen to their concerns, debunk the myths about the industry and provide them with information based on scientific data and facts, so they can take that into account to scale what they find appropriate.”

There's no smoke without fire

BBQ, hickory and smoky bacon-flavored potato chips enjoy considerable popularity, often ranking amongst consumers super likes. But that’s about to go up in smoke. Eight popular snack flavors are set to be phased out by the European Commission over the next two years.

This includes the current proposition by the EC to phase out eight Smoke Flavor Primary Products (SFPP) – highly popular within the snacks industry – over the next two years.

“There is the precautionary principle, which makes absolute sense in my eyes,” said Emig, noting, however, that “detection methods are being refined in laboratories, which means that some contaminants that we were, I won't say not aware of, but don’t play a big role currently, might pop up and obviously need to be re-assessed by the European Food Safety Authority. The European Commission will have to step in and I hope it’s going to be done in a sensible manner, not something that falls into panic mode and pre-empts discussions where science doesn’t play a key role.”

Consumer behavior and preferences

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Pic: GettyImages

I asked Emig if the regulations impacted by the changes in the EC could ultimately filter down to affect consumer behavior and preferences.

“When the European Commission proposes any kind of regulation and it goes into the parliament and the Member states, we are a key stakeholder in providing information to inform the legislating policy making process.

“Luckily, the policy stakeholders are open for comments and take into account the business realities. I’m happy also that non-governmental organizations that represent consumer interests play a big role as well. So we have a very balanced discussion and usually what comes out after churning and crunching is regulation that is impactful for industries, which are happy to implement it. Hence, I don’t think consumers are strongly affected by regulations. It’s a sensible consumer protection driver, but it’s not necessarily influencing their preferences.”

Snackex 2026

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Pic: GettyImages/no_limit_pictures

Our discussion with Emig also touched on the important Green Deal – “Europe’s man on the moment, as von der Leyen coined it, that still makes perfect sense” ​– potential restrictions on importing and exporting products and of course, Snackex.

“Every time I talk to [an exhibitor], they say, ‘it’s the best so far’ and I’m happy to say we’ve reached another peak. Even though we are really a specialized trade show [not open to the public], we had more than 2,000 pre-registered visitors. Which is fantastic.

This year, ESA – which organizes Snackex – cancelled the conference edition, which, according to Emig was a good move and ensured that “everybody was on the show floor”. Not forgoing the presentation side completely, a technical stage allowed exhibitors to present their new ingredients, technologies and innovations, which was always busy and created “a focused hub of makers and suppliers.”

Held bi-annually, the next show is scheduled to be held in Lisbon, Portugal, from June 17-18, 2026.

“We’ve already had companies saying they want to exhibit at the next show, which shows its growing success.”

Watch the video to hear the full interview with Sebatian Emig.

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