There is a plethora of software options and subscriptions available for businesses to calculate the nutrient contents of their recipes – but as with anything, the accuracy of the data output is only going to be as good as the information going in!
I first wrote about this in 2016 and the importance of using professionally trained experts, but in recent months it has become apparent when talking with several food business owners, that small/medium sized operators are increasingly starting to calculate their nutrition information themselves. With this in mind, now seemed a good time to revisit and discuss the benefits & pitfalls of calculating the nutrition contents of foods and drinks.
AB Food Nutrition has many years of experience calculating the nutrient composition of recipes for labels, menu boards and magazines. Using your product recipe we can take the hassle out of nutrition labelling compliance whilst providing an inexpensive, confidential and personal service to your business. Contact Anne for details.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of presenting evidence at Liverpool John Moores University to fellow Registered Nutritionists and Nutrition Students about the impacts of food labelling as part of the Association for Nutrition North West regional study day. I thought it would be good to share some of my findings with you here on my blog so here are 10 key points – hope you find them interesting too!
Did you know that almost 1/3 consumers regularly refer to food labels on products not previously purchased? The types of foods where labels are more likely to be checked are ready meals, dairy, breakfast cereals and canned goods. When labels are used the information most consumers are looking for is the use by date, fat, sugar and calorie content.1
Many consumers avoid having to read the back of food packs by using words or symbols on the front as ‘beacons’ to quickly guide them when they are shopping.2
In the UK front of pack nutrition labelling remains voluntary however, research has shown that the use of consistent front of pack labelling across as many food products as possible will help consumers to become familiar with its format, and to use it to balance their diet and in turn control their energy intake.3
Presently around 4/5 foods in UK supermarkets carry front of pack labelling.4
Research carried out on UK shoppers into whether green or red coloured traffic lights have a greater influence found that participants were more concerned with avoiding reds than choosing greens, and that saturated fat and salt had a greater influence on decisions regarding healthiness than total fat and sugar.5
In Australia, a health star rating is applied to foods based on their saturated fat, sodium and sugar content and whether they contain any fruit/veg/nuts/legumes and in some categories the fibre and protein content. This makes it easy to assess the overall healthfulness of a product. 6
Lack of motivation and attention are the bottlenecks that prevent nutrition labelling from having a positive effect on consumer choice with the average attention to nutrition labels being between just 25 and 100 milliseconds!7
Positive front of pack logos are in wide use across Europe and they can help consumers to prevent interpreting images or health claims on labels incorrectly.8
The acceptance of products with nutrition and health claims is influenced by many different factors: familiarity with the product, health claim or functional ingredient used, plus personal relevance appear to be the most important.9
It’s important that manufacturers/retailers have enough knowledge about their customers so that they can design labels, communicate product benefits and offer incentives that will work for them. This, in addition to better rules on marketing & promotions of unhealthier foods & drinks can create a positive environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice.
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.
1 Food and Drink Federation research
2 Enright G, Good H, Williams N. Qualitative Research to Explore Peoples’ Use of Food Labelling Information. London: Food Standards Agency, 2010
3 DH (2016) Guide to creating a front of pack (FoP) nutrition label for pre-packed products sold through retail outlets
You’ve got nutrition information on your product labels, so that’s it – job done and you are fully FIR compliant now….right?
Well, yes and no!
Whether you have had your nutrition information calculated or analysed, it is only going to be valid for the recipe as it was at the time of the analysis. If in the future you decide to tweak the recipe, change the way it is processed or launch new products, then you have to make sure you have the nutrition information updated and incorporated on the pack or label before you even begin selling the product.
Even if you never ever change the recipe, nutrient contents of raw materials can change over time so it’s good practice to review your nutrition declaration approximately every 2 to 3 years. You may need to do this more frequently if you are using a lot of ingredients that have sub-recipes of their own, as your suppliers may also make improvements or changes to their products. Make sure you keep up-to-date specifications or information about all your raw materials so that you are aware if there are any changes that will impact upon your ingredients, allergen and nutrition labels.
Is nutrition information here to stay? What about Brexit?
The idea that following Britain’s decision to leave the EU means that we no longer have to follow EU law is a myth I’m afraid. A spokesperson from the Chartered Trading Standards Institute had said that any changes in food regulation wouldn’t come into effect until at least two years from now so in the meantime the current EU food regulations still stand. The government has even stated that following Brexit there will be greater flexibility for front-of-pack nutrition information, as currently under EU law, it is only voluntary so, it certainly looks like it is here to stay!
If you have now found yourself in the unfortunate position that the 13 December deadline has passed and you have not implemented the new rules on nutrition labelling yet, make sure you take action as soon as possible. AB food nutrition specialises in recipe analysis & nutritional labelling advice, and our confidential, personalised yet cost-effective nutrition labelling solutions make us the ideal partner for a food business of any size.
With all the headlines and TV shows around at the moment focussing on sugar and how we are consuming too much, one phrase I hear regularly is “hidden sugars” and how our food is “full of it”!
Having been involved in writing the information that must be shown on labels (otherwise known as pack copy) since my first job in the food industry some 18 years ago, this phrase really makes me sigh. By law all ingredients must be labelled – and that includes anything added that is deemed to be sugars, so it most definitely cannot be “hidden”.
Not only that, but one of the fundamentals of food labelling is that it “must not be misleading”, and I have been fortunate over the years to work with teams of labelling technologists who share my passion in making sure labelling is done with the consumer in mind. I can recall many hours deliberating over aspects of labelling information with such individuals, and then we still have to keep the marketeers in check to make sure they don’t get carried away with what I affectionately call “marketing fluff”! So, is it any wonder why we get upset when the media accuse the food industry of misleading and hiding things?
It seems that there is an overall lack of understanding amongst consumers as to what is actually classed as ‘free sugars’. As always, education plays a huge part because you can put all the information possible on a food pack, but it is useless if it is ignored or not understood.
The official definition of free sugars is, all monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, plus sugars naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Under this definition lactose, when naturally present in milk and milk products is excluded.
So how do we educate consumers to enable them to choose foods ain order to meet the new dietary recommendation – of which free sugars should not exceed 5% (population average) of total dietary energy?
Firstly, consumers need to understand which foods generally contribute the most free sugars in the diet – so that they can choose to limit or reduce the amount and frequency by which they consume them. These foods include chocolate and sweets, cakes and biscuits and of course sugar-sweetened drinks.
Secondly, they need to understand the names of different types of free sugars so they can look out for them in the ingredients list on pack, and because the order is in descending order by weight, if a type of sugar appears near the beginning of the ingredients list, the product is likely to have more free sugars than one in which any sugars are at the end. Some common names for those added to foods are sucrose, glucose, molasses, dextrose, honey, invert sugar, treacle, glucose syrup and maltose.
There has also been a lot of discussion lately about how we can improve the labelling of free sugars to make it easier for consumers to meet the new maximum sugar intake recommendations. Currently, under EU law, sugar labelling shows the total sugar content – this includes both the free sugars and naturally occurring sugars, and from December it will be mandatory to include this information on the back of most packaged foods and drinks. The UK Government has also confirmed that it will introduce clearer visual labelling (such as teaspoons of sugar) to show consumers about the sugar content in packaged food and drink – though this will be voluntary. The government has even indicated that Brexit will provide “greater flexibility” in relation to front-of-pack nutrition information.
So, in the meantime, I urge everyone to use the information on pack that labelling experts like me have worked so hard to provide. If you need some inspiration to help you cut back on those free sugars how about making some of these little changes to your diet:
Use fruit such as raisins, dried apricots, dates or bananas instead of sugar, which naturally add sweetness to breakfast cereals and plain yogurt.
Sweet-tasting, spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and ginger are a great way of adding flavour when preparing foods at home.
Try just a thin layer of jam or marmalade on wholegrain toast.
Swap sugar-sweetened beverages to sugar free drinks or better still water, tea or coffee (without adding sugar!).
So, with just six months until Christmas – time to start planning your marketing, events and orders …oh… and don’t forget – your mandatory nutrition labelling!
That’s right – the Food Information Regulation (FIR) deadline will be here before you know it. 13th December 2016 to be exact! But, more importantly, you still have time to do something about it if you haven’t already put plans or resources in place to update your labels.
So then, a quick reminder of what is required. From 13 December 2016, it will be mandatory to provide “back of pack” nutrition labelling for prepacked food, subject to certain exemptions contained in Annex V of EU Regulation 1169/2011. These exemptions relate mainly to minimally processed foods and those with little nutritional value. (This does not apply to food supplements, natural mineral waters or PARNUTS because these fall under the scope of other Directives with their own nutrition labelling provisions).
You can read more detail on the requirements and presentation of this information in my previous blog post.
But don’t forget, if you offer food for sale via a website, telephone orders or similar, the mandatory nutrition information must also be made available before the purchase is concluded. The rules for mandatory nutrition labelling also apply if you supply prepacked food to mass caterers for further preparation.
So why, you may ask, have these rules become law?
The prime reason is to enable consumers to make informed choices about the foods they use to suit their dietary needs. The 2007 White Paper “A Strategy for Europe on Nutrition, Overweight and Obesity related health issues”, stressed the need for consumers to have access to clear, consistent and evidence-based information. Having nutrition information provided on packs assists with public health policies concerning nutrition education. Additionally, it’s presence on all products means it will be relevant for all shoppers in every price and product category.
How can I get the nutrient values for my products?
There are basically two options, you can send samples of your finished products to a laboratory for analysis, or the average values can be calculated using known values of the ingredients used and/or generally established & accepted data (such as McCance & Widdowsons 7th Edition).
AB Food Nutrition offers a cost effective, confidential and personal calculation service (contact email@example.com for further information and quotes).
It’s important to remember though, that if you regularly make changes to your products the nutrition information will most likely be impacted and so another nutrition analysis or calculation will be required – something to consider when choosing which method you want to use versus overall costs. Additionally, any new products developed after the December deadline will need to have the nutrition information included on the label before you can launch it.