By Stephen Kaufman
Chief Technology Officer, SGK
Many U.S. and European Union shoppers and consumers merely glance over nutrition information on food labels – or fail to comprehend it when they do pay attention. But that’s about to change. Not just because consumers are growing ever more conscientious about what they eat, but because EU and U.S. regulations will ensure that nutrition information is easier to understand and much harder to overlook on the label.
No doubt, this will drive more consumer engagement with packaging. As for brands and manufacturers, some will see the regulations as a burden to be avoided for as long as possible and minimized wherever possible. But others will see it as an opportunity to become more efficient and more accurate – and more profitable in the long term. Let’s start with the vital background.
The New Regulations – European Union
In the European Union, EU Regulation 1169/2011 establishes a new legal framework for the nutrition information presented to consumers. Ratified in September of 2011, with full compliance for most companies required by December 13, 2014, this new regulation encompasses more than 50 pages of rules that standardize the presentation of food information and lower the administrative burden of tracking data. And, most important, the rules ensure that consumers have complete, unambiguous, highly legible information about the foods they plan to eat prior to purchase. Here are the main features.
Well-Organized Allergen Information
Prior to the new regulation, many products displayed an “Allergens Table” somewhere on the package. But with the new regulations, all allergens must be in the list of ingredients and highlighted “through a typeset that clearly distinguishes it from the rest of the list of ingredients.” This keeps mom from having to read the ingredients first and then scour all the other panels to look for egg yolks, whey, crustaceans or products made with a part from one of the 85,000 extant species of mollusks.
The implications: The redesign of hundreds of thousands of packages across Europe, but the potential to leverage this for a more trust-based relationship with consumers.
More Prominent Secondary Information
The new European regulations require clear expression of many facts not related to the ingredients themselves – such as net quantity, “use by” date, storage conditions, country of origin and instructions for use. While there are some exceptions based on the overall size of the product, most packages will show more information, in a larger format, than ever before.
Paradoxically, there is a push from the sustainability end of the packaging spectrum to lower the amount of post-consumer waste, while at the same time, the 1169 rules dictate the need to hold more information. Expect to see your favorite packages stuffed even more tightly with info.
The implications: A serious design challenge for all brands and manufacturers, but an opportunity to stand out against competitors who don’t handle the redesign as deftly and as attractively.
The most interesting part of the new EU food labeling regulation concerns “pre-packaged foods offered for sale by means of distance communications.” For example, 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 must coordinate the information printed on the package with information displayed on any number of online retail sites.
The implications: A tremendous responsibility to get lagging online information in sync with the physical package – which could remedy widespread consumer frustration with incomplete and out-of-date e-commerce product information.
The New Regulations – U.S.
New food labeling regulations are coming to the U.S. as well. For example, the Food and Drug Administration announced on February 27, 2014 that there will be:
- Much more prominent display of information such as serving sizes and calories
- A requirement that serving sizes reflect what people actually 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.
At the same time, there has been tentative activity in the U.S. Congress around requiring prominent front-panel information such as the percentage of wheat or whole grains in products marketed as “multigrain” or “whole wheat,” as well as the inclusion of sweeteners, coloring or flavoring. Proposed new regulations would also prohibit misleading information such as touting low cholesterol in a product containing significant amounts of trans fats.
Although as of mid-2014 the legislation was still in subcommittee, brands should be aware that such legislation would require new label formatting.
The implications: Similar to the EU regulations: serious practical challenges for brands and manufacturers over a short time frame – but clear opportunities to build consumer trust through information transparency and superior package design strategies. The key here is handling the changes in a thoughtful and systematic way.
Brands know that consumer trust is one of their most valuable assets. And of course, brands are aware of the importance of complying when governments regulate safety into branded products. One minor mistake and you could be looking at a long-lasting, even permanent, impact on your brand.
Beyond avoiding mistakes, smart brands will be using new food labeling regulations as an opportunity. Some regulations – for example, the front-panel disclosures proposed in the U.S. – will require substantial modifications to package design. This is an opportunity to refresh the brand through new package design, messaging, promotions or even nutritional improvements to the product itself.
All of these possibilities are best addressed early and holistically – not dealt with in isolation from the need to comply with new labeling requirements. Although we’ve focused on food labeling, 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 food and pharma industries can make it to the other end of the wire by employing a centralized system for managing copy, artwork and digital assets across all the brand’s manifestations, globally.
SGK’s BLUE! is one example of a system that helps brands manage graphics and copy across media to ensure accuracy and consistency. BLUE gives brand owners the ability to centralize product information and brand assets for easy control, and to automatically distribute approved versions across channels to simplify regulatory compliance – and assure overall package quality and appeal.
Brands need to have a plan in place – or much better, a system like BLUE – for managing the many print and digital redesigns that will be required to deal with new regulations that are already in place in the European Union, and soon to come in other regions. Are you ready?
About the Author
Stephen Kaufman, Chief Technology Officer for SGK is a visionary leader able to connect technology enablers to real business challenges in user-friendly ways. As such, 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.
Kaufman joined SGK in 1993 where he has held a number of technology leadership positions, pioneering the development of what was then the industry’s first digital asset management system designed specifically to meet the stringent requirements of the consumer products packaging sector. Today, this product is marketed under the name BLUE! ™ and continues to be implemented globally by industry giants in consumer products, retailing and life sciences. BLUE! gives brand owners the ability to centralize product information and brand assets for easy control, and to automatically distribute approved versions across channels to simplify regulatory compliance – and assure overall package quality and appeal. http://www.bluesoftware.com
Birtsas, Stephen. “The Three Packaging Challenges Holding Pharmaceutical Companies Back,” Pharmaceutical Compliance Monitor, April 15, 2013. Accessed on April 30, 2014. http://www.pharmacompliancemonitor.com/the-three-packaging-challenges-holding-pharmaceutical-companies-back/4719/
FDA News Release. “FDA Proposes Updates to Nutrition Facts Label on Food Packages,” February 27, 2014. Accessed April 30, 2014. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm387418.htm
SGK News Release. “’Brand On A Wire: Walking the Tightrope of Regulatory and Consumer Trust’ to be Presented by SGK SVP and Group Managing Director Scott Strong at the 2014 PACE Forum in Brussels, Belgium,” February 4, 2014. Accessed April 30, 2014. http://www.sgkinc.com/insights/news/brand-wire-walking-tightrope-regulatory-and-consumer-trust-be-presented-sgk-svp-and
Sjerven, Jay. “Easy to Understand Nutrition Labeling Proposed.” Food Business News, October 14, 2013. Accessed April 30, 2014. http://www.foodbusinessnews.net/articles/news_home/ Regulatory_News/2013/10/Easy_to_understand_nutrition_l.aspx?ID=%7B8A59894A-DECD-4021-BE85-B991BA95B38C%7D&cck=1 BLUE is a product of SGK. www.bluesoftware.com