What does Brexit mean for nutrition labelling?

This is one burning question I have been asked several times – and one I have even wondered about myself, so having recently listened to a podcast on this topic with a senior European food law analyst (Peter Rixon, IEG Policy), I thought a short blog about this would be useful!

The general understanding is that in the short term there will not be any radical changes. Current EU regulations will continue to apply, including the most recent introduction of mandatory back of pack nutrition labelling. The UK actually helped to steer changes to EU food law that we now adhere to through the Food Information Regulation and it appears that negotiating trade agreements is the priority post Brexit!

 

However, looking at aspects of labelling such as front of pack traffic light nutrition – which is currently voluntary in the UK and has proven to be very successful despite not being popular with Italy (who put pressure on the EU Commission to take legal action against the UK as it is thought to discriminate against some of their products). France have recently launched a colour coding scheme indicating that this sort of labelling is likely to become more popular and that Brexit is not going to put a stop to it. There are also increasing pressures from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for traffic light labelling to become mandatory and for the same scheme to be applied correctly.

And what about health and nutrition claims? EU regulations govern these and it is the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) who is responsible for verifying them. It is thought that the UK will continue to apply the rules of the regulation with an opportunity to review them at a later date. There is an argument that the current rules prevent innovation and that deregulation could see advances in the functional food market. However, food businesses selling into the EU would still have to comply with the legislation.

So, in summary, it is envisaged that we are not likely to see the advances made in nutrition labelling becoming undone but instead, the UK has the opportunity to take the lead as there will be greater flexibility outside of EU regulation for us to do so. Whilst there will be the potential for change in the longer term, the emphasis post-Brexit will be on continuity and the avoidance of disruption.

AB Food Nutrition has many years of experience in food labelling and carrying out nutrition calculations for both mandatory back of pack nutrition labelling and voluntary front of pack multiple traffic light systems. Each project is handled with meticulous care to maximise accuracy whilst offering value for money and unparalleled customer support. For more information or to request a product recipe analysis contact Anne today.

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Making nutrition & health claims -legally!

Being a registered nutritionist who has a specialism in food labelling, I just can’t help myself checking out the food information on packaging when I am out and about in supermarkets, convenience stores or farm shops (by the way – I’m not alone on this!!). Sadly, I do see lots of mistakes – particularly when it comes to nutrition claims, and this isn’t always restricted to what is on the label as I see mistakes in other commercial publications such as websites, and advertisements but also increasingly on social media posts. Claims are even popping up on fast food & catering menus that drop through the door such as ‘low fat’, ‘superfood’ or ‘healthy option’!

Quite often these nutrition claims pop-up in a very general statement or within a product description – and if the authors didn’t think they were actually making a claim that must comply with regulations, then I should point out that ignorance is no defence!

The regulation EC no. 1924/2006 (as amended by EU reg no. 1047/2012) defines nutrition claims as:

stating, suggesting or implying that a food has a beneficial nutritional composition due to presence/absence/increased or reduced level of energy or a nutrient. Only nutrition claims listed in the annex to the regulation can be used if the specific criteria for that claim has been met.

And a heath claim as:

Stating, suggesting or implying that a relationship exists between a food/food category/constituents and health. So even saying “good for you” may also be a health claim! Only authorised health claims can be used so long as products meet the conditions stated.

In a nutshell, it simply isn’t good enough to google information (other search engines are available!) about a food and then slap the nutritional/health benefits found all over labels, webpages and across your social media posts. Care needs to be taken to ensure that the nutrition information for your product is accurate in the first place so that you can check if any claims you want to make can be substantiated.

But that’s not all! One of the fundamentals of food labelling is that it must not be misleading so, the wording you can use must have the same meaning to the consumer as the claims listed in the annex or on the EU register. For example, saying a product “contains no fat” would be subject to the conditions for fat free. The same also goes for pictorial or symbolic representations. Medicinal claims that imply the food can prevent, treat or cure a human disease are a no go area – they are not permitted to be used on food!

And, if you want to make a comparative claim – this must be with foods of the same category so, for example you should not compare the calcium content of a yogurt with that of an orange! The key requirement is that the comparison helps consumers make informed choices. The comparison you choose should also be representative of the market, so making a reduced sugar claim on lemonade in comparison with the full sugar version in the range is permitted if the full sugar variant has similar sugar levels to other full sugar lemonades also available from competitors or brands.

There are additional statements required on the label (or presentation or advertising) of products that make health claims:

  • The importance of a varied & balanced diet and healthy lifestyle
  • Quantity/consumption pattern required to obtain the benefit
  • Statement to who should avoid using the food (if appropriate)
  • A warning if likely to present a health risk if consumed to excess

Every week the Advertising Standards Authority publish their weekly rulings, and for those companies who have been published for being in breach of the regulations/advertising codes, they generally remain on the website for five years!

The Department of Health have published detailed guidance and also a quick start guide containing a flowchart to help you decide whether you need to comply with the regulation.  When done correctly and effectively, communicating the nutrition and health benefits of your products not only enables consumers to value them more, but can help them to make informed dietary choices too.

AB Food Nutrition specialises in carrying out nutrition analysis of products and recipes and assessing the criteria for any permitted nutrition / health claims. We can also review commercial communications including website copy for compliance with the regulations. For a competitive, personalised quotation contact Anne.

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Industry reformulation & nutrition guidance

There has never been more of a focus or pressure on food manufacturers to reformulate products in a bid to improve the nutritional content of products.  The good news is that UK shoppers don’t mind their favourite products being reformulated – just so long as they taste as good!  So are you ready to rise to the challenge?

Whether this is reducing sugar, salt or saturated fat or even enriching foods with the nutrients that we need to consume more of – you might find the collection of case studies from the Institute of Grocery Distribution (IGD) a good source of inspiration and ideas.  Here are some of the reformulation highlights:

 

  • ASDA reduced sugar in the base dough recipe of their donuts by 50% without any technical issues.  They also reduced salt in sour cream & onion party bites by simply adding a crisp without added salt to the mix.
  • Premier Foods adopted a ‘health by stealth’ approach by making gradual changes to the sugar content of their popular Mr Kipling Viennese Whirls.
  • Reducing sugar by 33% and salt by 21% in Musgrave cooking sauces took Greencore 8 months to achieve by boosting the tomato and vegetable content.  This required new ingredients to be sourced and new procedures creating.  A similar approach was taken by Mars Food for Dolmio sauces.
  • It took 12 months for Tesco to reformulate honey & mustard chicken pasta due to technical issues with creating a lower fat dressing that doesn’t split when honey is an ingredient.  Tesco also identified that mayonnaise and butter were common ingredients in sandwiches so they replaced this with a reduced fat mayonnaise and also removed the butter.
  • Dairy Crest worked for 2 years to produce a high quality lower fat mature cheese.
  • M&S enriched their loaves and rolls with fibre and used a type of yeast that produces vitamin D.  Clear front of pack labelling was also a significant element as customers find positive messages more motivating.

  • Greggs launched a new ‘Balanced Choice’ range consisting of products <400 calories and with no red colour coded nutrients.  They also reformulated some traditional favourites by replacing puff pastry with shortcrust and developing lower fat fillings.
  • Tesco reformulated trifles taking several years to achieve a multi-component nutrient reduction.  This not only resulted in a healthier product, but the cream had a fresher & cleaner taste and organoleptic properties were improved at end of shelf life.
  • Sainsbury’s made a simple swap from whole milk to semi skimmed in drinks served from in store cafes resulting in significant reductions in both calories and fat.  They also provide the nutritional composition of their products on menu boards to help customers make informed choices.
  • Co-op worked collaboratively with one of their suppliers – Tulip, using a solution called IPOSOL in order to achieve a 30% reduction in salt in gammon.
  • Morrisons removed sugar from extruded breakfast cereals by replacing it with a bulking carbohydrate that did not increase calories.  The ratio of cereal types was altered to boost fibre content and improve texture.

Another new resource that will be of particular interest if your are a catering manager or chef is the Nutrition guide from the British Hospitality Association.  This go-to guide is full of useful information about how to provide healthier options and the legal obligations that must be complied with.

The guidance helps caterers to design healthier menus including those specifically aimed at children or for those with allergies.  Packed with ideas on how to maximise the use of fruit and veg, purchasing tips, food preparation techniques to preserve nutrients and ways to remove/reduce/replace fat, saturated fat, sugar and salt, it even advises on ways to promote your new menu and ensure that you are making legally compliant nutrition and health claims.

 

Whilst the reasons for formulating products are varied it’s clear that consumers and external influences are big a stimulus for healthier reformulation.

 

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers to provide nutrient composition values of their products for labelling or menu boards and also during product development or reformulation. We can work with you to assess the impact recipe changes will have on nutritional content as well as advising on ways to achieve a desired nutritional profile such as reducing fat, sugar or salt including advice on which nutrition or health claims you can use in product marketing.  Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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Industry told to cut sugar by 20%

At the start of the week, the House of Commons Health Select Committee published a follow up to the Government’s childhood obesity plan, in which they welcomed the measures included but were extremely disappointed that several key areas had not been included.

Tiered levy on sugary drinks – strongly recommend measures are implemented to ensure manufacturers pass on the price differential between high & low/no sugar to help maximise the ‘nudge’ and prevent consumers of sugar-free products subsidising the higher sugar drinks. Also urge Government to extend the levy to milk-based drinks with added sugar.

Voluntary reformulation programme (sugar) – urge Government to set out proposals if the voluntary reformulation does not go as far or as fast as necessary. Likewise Public Health England (PHE) should set out plans for reducing portion size & Government draw up measures to implement a cap on portion sizes linked to calorie content of certain foods & drinks for implementation if voluntary action does not achieve this.

Discounts & promotions – urge Government to follow evidence based advice from their chief public health advisers and to regulate price promotions on the sale of unhealthy food & drinks.

Committee of Advertising Practise (CAP) banning high fat, salt & sugar (HFSS) advertising in children’s media – new rules could and should go further. Urge a re-examination of the case for further restrictions on advertising HFSS food & drink in the light of the most recent research.

Out of home sector – a call for a change to planning legislation to make it easier for local authorities to limit proliferation of unhealthy food outlets in their areas.

And today (30/03/17) Public Health England published a technical report setting out guidelines on how to achieve a 20% sugar reduction across 9 categories of food (that provide the majority of the sugar in the diets of children up to 18yrs).

For each category, the overall levels of sugar per 100g to achieve the 5% and 20% reductions are provided based on sales weighted averages – to help businesses focus reformulation on the top selling products that make the biggest contribution to sugar levels. Average and maximum calories or portion size guidelines for products likely to be consumed by an individual at one time are also provided – the biggest selling individual portion size products will need to decrease to reduce averages across categories.

To monitor progress, the levels of sugars and calories assessed across food categories in 2015 will be used as the baseline. Two detailed assessments (March 2018, March 2020) will be published to advise on progress with lighter reviews & progress reports at 6 monthly intervals.

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers to provide nutrient composition values of their products for labelling and also during product development or reformulation. We can work with you to assess the impact recipe changes will have on nutritional content as well as advising on ways to achieve a desired nutritional profile such as a 5% or 20% sugar reduction. Contact Anne for further information about our nutrition and labelling services.

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