Labelling

4 reasons you need a food & nutrition labelling consultant

Maybe you are puzzled at why companies might hire consultants instead of solving their own problems themselves? As much as I hate to hear it, that question does make sense however, there are many reasons why a company might need to use a consultant to help with their nutrition and labelling obligations (and also why I am able to keep working with some of the coolest foodies in the industry!).

 

You might not want the responsibility of verifying all the information on your own

Labelling rules are strictly regulated and can get complicated when trying to establish if you have included all the mandatory information correctly, taken account of the minimum type sizes for the text on your label in addition to any specific declarations that may apply to your product type.

A labelling consultant is there to support you in producing compliant labels.  They are the experts who know what can or cannot be printed on the label and they are aware of which sets of regulations will apply to your product type no matter how complex that may be.

You are just starting out in the food industry

No doubt you have done tons of research looking at competitor products so that you can make your label the best and the most eye catching.  However, if your competitor makes certain claims on their packs, this doesn’t mean that you should too.

Consultants will advise you what is compliant rather than what sells best in the market place.  Brands who break the law do so at their own risk and are likely to be challenged by the authorities eventually.

You don’t have the time to learn about labelling laws

Perhaps you are launching several products at once or have just won a new retail contract with a very tight launch timeline.  Maybe you just don’t have the energy or desire to check your label designs are compliant amongst all the other important tasks required in the running of your expanding business?

By nature, consultants will provide advice that clearly keeps their client within the law, so do exactly what a labelling consultant tells you!!  Obvious I know, but there are so many regulations under constant change, it would be almost impossible for small businesses to keep up. Once you have established your product portfolio and had your labels reviewed, it should become a routine task to add more SKUs in the future if they are of similar ingredients.

You want to hire an experienced and knowledgeable labelling expert

In an ideal world, you would have a team of experts in-house, but the reality is, the number of hours and frequency you would need them means employing these experts full-time is not an option.

This is where the flexibility of using a consultant really comes into its own. You only pay for the services/time the consultant provides.  You also benefit from projects being completed speedily because your consultant (unlike in-house employees) isn’t distracted by other business tasks.  This means good value for money!

It may seem like a big investment or effort to employ a food and nutrition labelling consultant, though you may find that you are eligible for funding or grants that will cover some or all of the fees.  AB Food Nutrition specialises in working closely with organisations of all sizes and has years of experience supporting new and small food businesses not just in the North West, but across the UK. Contact Anne to discuss your requirements for a cost-effective food & nutrition labelling quote.

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A vegan and allergen quandary

Imagine this: It’s a Saturday morning and I’ve lovingly made a nutritious breakfast of scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast for my daughter before she heads off out to play in a footy match.  I then put away and clean up everything ready for my two friends Amanda and Tania, who are joining me for brunch.  Now, my friend Amanda is vegan and so I have opted to make us all a vegan fry-up of hash browns, mushrooms, tomatoes, scrambled tofu and baked beans.

I then remember that Tania has severe egg and milk allergies so although she can still enjoy my vegan fry-up – how do I know that absolutely all traces of egg and milk have been removed from my kitchen since I made my daughters scrambled egg this morning?? The answer is…I don’t!

 

 

And there you have it! Now, as the Vegan Society explains “Products suitable for vegans may not be suitable for people with allergies. Vegans avoid exploitation of non-human animals, whereas people with allergies need products that do not contain the allergens that affect them. These are separate issues.”

Just in the same way that companies assess whether their products may contain major allergens I had to decide whether I thought Tania would be safe eating my vegan fry-up in the same kitchen where I had previously made scrambled eggs.  If there is a risk, the label carries a ‘may also contain’ warning.

So why did M&S come under so much fire with the launch of their new plant kitchen range?

The Vegan Society states it is “not against foods labelled as vegan also carrying a ‘may contain warning about animal allergens”, and an M&S spokesperson quite rightly pointed out that “vegan products may not be suitable for people with severe allergies because allergens may be present in the environment in which they are made.  This is clearly flagged on the packaging as a steer to those who need it.”  However, many disagree and feel that it is misleading to state something is vegan whilst also stating that it may contain small amounts of dairy products.

The food industry must adhere to strict rules concerning allergen labelling, which is heavily regulated, yet the term ‘vegan’ is only used by industry voluntarily so, how can it be used accurately when no legal definition exists?  (Note: the EU Commission announced it would begin the process to establish a legal definition this year, but this will not automatically apply to the UK post-Brexit).  In the meantime, there needs to be more education for consumers to understand that “vegan” does not automatically mean “free from” and as always, it pays to read the label every time!

AB Food Nutrition works with manufacturers and caterers to provide allergen information to consumers on labels, menus and websites. We can work with you to implement procedures for updating and signing off allergen information. Contact Anne for further information about our cost-effective consultancy services.

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So what can I really say about my traditional artisan products made with natural ingredients?

The marketing of food is essential for businesses to develop within the food industry however, they have the potential to mislead when used incorrectly.  It’s a particularly tough job for small businesses looking to find the best way to communicate the differences between their products and mainstream commercial foodstuffs.

When using marketing terms responsibly, food business operators need to be aware that there are general principles to be followed in the provision of food information to consumers:

Article 7 Regulation (EU) 1169/2011

  1. Food information shall not be misleading, particularly:

(a) as to the characteristics of the food and, in particular, as to its nature, identity, properties, composition, quantity, durability, country of origin or place of provenance, method of manufacture or production;

(b) by attributing to the food effects or properties which it does not possess;

(c) by suggesting that the food possesses special characteristics when in fact all similar foods possess such characteristics, in particular by specifically emphasising the presence or absence of certain ingredients and/or nutrients;

(d) by suggesting, by means of the appearance, the description or pictorial representations, the presence of a particular food or an ingredient, while in reality a component naturally present or an ingredient normally used in that food has been substituted with a different component or a different ingredient.

To assist with compliance however, you will be glad to know that there is some industry guidance available on the use of some certain and increasingly popular marketing terms!

 

ARTISAN

Should only be used to advertise foods that meet all of the following criteria:

  • The food is made in limited quantities* by skilled craftspeople*
  • The processing method is not fully mechanised and follows a traditional* method
  • The food is made in a micro-enterprise* at a single location
  • The characteristic ingredient(s)* used in the food are grown or produced locally*, where seasonally available and practical.

 

FARMHOUSE

To state that food originates from a farm, it must meet all of the following:

  • The food is made in a single location on a farm*
  • The food is made by a micro-enterprise*
  • The characteristic ingredient(s)* used in the food are grown or produced locally*

However, there are foods that have used the term ‘farmhouse’ for many years and are well understood by the consumer and so they may continue to be marketed this way even if they don’t meet all three criteria above eg. Bread with a split and rounded crust, coarse textured pâté and soup made with chunky vegetables.

The term ‘farmhouse’ would not be acceptable for fresh, pasteurised milk and cream however ‘farm fresh’ has been associated with these products for years and so can continue to be used.

 

TRADITIONAL

This implies that food is made to a time-honoured recipe or in a time-honoured way and so must comply with at least one of the following:

  • The food is made to an authentic recipe which can be proved to have existed without significant modification* for at least 30 years and/or
  • The food has been made using a method of preparation that has:
  • Existed for more than 30 years although automation and mechanisation of these methods is acceptable and,
  • Does not deviate substantially from the traditional food processing method associated with a certain type of food.

 

NATURAL

For single ingredient foods, the term can be used if the food* is formed by nature and is not significantly interfered with by man*, but also only if this would not be the case for other similar foods (such as processed or containing additives).

Compound foods by their very nature have been formed by man so cannot be ‘natural’ however, if different to other similar compound foods they may use the description ‘made with natural ingredients’ if:

  • The ingredients* are formed by nature and are not significantly interfered with by man*
  • The ingredients* and the final food are:
  1. Additive-free or
  2. Contain flavourings that are natural as defined in European law or
  3. Contain other food additives that are obtained from natural sources, e.g. plants, by appropriate physical processing (including distillation and solvent extraction) or traditional preparation processes.

You can see these sorts of claims on the recently launched nitrite free bacon or hams.

Dairy products have for many years included ‘natural’ in their product name to indicate they are only made from milk using starter cultures necessary for fermentation but are free from other additives, flavourings and colours eg. Natural yogurt.

 

* further information on these definitions can be found in the FSAI Guidance Note 29 and also FSA Criteria for the use of terms fresh, pure, natural etc..

 

Food Labelling can be difficult and stressful when working to tight deadlines as it often involves being aware of the minefield of legislation and codes of practice to understand which your product labels must comply with.  AB Food Nutrition has the knowledge and experience to help you label your foods legally whilst exceeding your expectations with our friendly, reliable and cost-effective solutions.  Contact Anne for further details.

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.

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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