New Food Labeling Regulations Are Coming. Are You Ready?

Stephen Kaufman, SGK's chief technology officer.

Many people gloss over or fail to fully comprehend nutritional information on food labels. But that’s about to change. And it’s not just because people are becoming more conscientious about what they eat. It’s also because the information is about to become easier to understand and much harder to overlook on the label.

Growing nutritional awareness combined with requirements for more prominently displayed nutritional information are a recipe for greater consumer engagement with packaging. Some brands will see it as a challenge to be overcome. Others will see it as an opportunity to be capitalized on.

In the European Union, EU Regulation 1169/2011 establishes a new legal framework for providing food information to consumers and ensure consumers have complete, unambiguous, highly legible information about the foods they plan to eat prior to purchase.

The most interesting part of the new EU food labeling regulation concerns pre-packaged foods offered for sale by means of distance communications, such as a candy bar sold through Amazon. The regulation states “information shall be available before the purchase is concluded,” and “without charging consumers supplementary costs.” This means brands need to coordinate the information printed on the package with information displayed on any number of online retail sites.

Coming to America
New food labeling regulations are also coming to the United States. The Food and Drug Administration announced on February 27 that there would be:

  • Much more prominent display of information such as serving sizes and calories.
  • A requirement that serving sizes reflect the amount people eat at a typical sitting, not the smaller amount they “should” be eating.
  • More prominent display of daily value percentages for nutrients, along with information about what the values mean.
  • Changes in label information based on new understanding of nutrition science—such as requiring information about added sugars, updating the daily values for certain “nutrients of public health significance,” emphasizing the importance of avoiding certain kinds of fat rather than focusing on total calories from fat, and so on.

Congress is also taking action. H.R.3147 would require labels to prominently display on the front panel information such as the percentage of wheat or whole grains included in products marketed using terms such as “multigrain” or “whole wheat,” as well as the inclusion of sweeteners, coloring or flavoring. It would also require formatting that improves readability of information on nutritional content and maintaining healthy dietary practices. The new regulations would also prohibit misleading information such as touting low cholesterol in a product containing significant amounts of trans fats.

This might simplify packaging copy, but the greater effect is to increase the amount of information, the burden of managing it and the challenge of keeping the package attractive overall. All of this is good for consumers, and it can be good for brands as well—but only if they handle the changes in a thoughtful and systematic way and adopt some type of content management system to help ensure the correct information is used on every package.

Beyond avoiding mistakes, smart brands will be using new food labeling regulations as an opportunity. Some regulations, such as the front-panel disclosures proposed in the United States, will require substantial modifications to package design. Rather than seeing this as a burden, it can be an opportunity to refresh the brand through new package design, messaging, promotions or even nutritional improvements to the product itself.

Then There’s Pharma
It’s worth noting that pharmaceutical companies face the same kinds of regulatory challenges—and should also be looking for ways to turn labeling requirements into opportunities to improve brand performance. Both industries can make it past these challenges by employing centralized systems for managing copy, artwork and digital assets across all the brand’s manifestations, globally.

All of these possibilities are best addressed early and holistically rather than individually or in isolation. Brands need to have a plan in place—and have a content management system to help manage the many print and digital redesigns that will be required to deal with new regulations that are already in place in the European Union, coming soon to the United States.

Are you ready?

Stephen Kaufman is Chief Technology Officer for SGK. He directs the development and implementation of strategic technology solutions for SGK around such pressing client business issues as globalization, supply chain integration, process automation and environmental sustainability.


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