Food labelling: Why size isn't the only thing that matters

30th June 2014 - Fine Cut

From December 13th 2014, food producers and retailers will have to ensure their products conform to a new set of standards laid out by the European Union.

For the first time, all member states will have the bloc's guidelines on food and nutrition labelling brought together under one directive, with the result known as The Food Information for Consumers Regulation (FIR).

It's a move that has already stirred up its fair share of controversy, not only because the rules the affected organisations are meant to be readying themselves for have already changed on more than one occasion, but also because of the cost involved in implementing the requested amendments.

As a result, the British Retail Consortium recently revealed it was "unlikely" that all firms would meet the end-of-year deadline.

While the Trading Standards Institute, which is responsible for enforcing the FIR, has promised that its officers won't be actively looking for breaches in the early days of its implementation, the matter remains that companies need to be clear on what they can and can't say on their packaging.

Clarity

One of the most important considerations is whether or not the consumer will understand what's being said on the label. After all, that is the reason it is being made mandatory to include such data.

With this in mind, it doesn't matter how big or how colourful the nutritional information is, if it reads as though it might as well be in a foreign language, then there is little point to it being there.

Writing for The Grocer, ambassador for the Welsh Food and Drinks Project (WFDP) Llior Radford said it was vitally important for producers, the public and partners to work together to ensure that any labelling on products does the job it's supposed to.

Failure is only likely to result in further necessary changes further down the line - something the authorities have already proven they are not adverse to. However, with the estimated average label cost coming in at over £3,000 per product, it could prove pricey for organisations that have hundreds or thousands of lines to their name.

How they achieve that cross-sector collaboration is another matter and one that the WFDP has already been using its own initiative to try to accomplish.

Recently, the organisation held a spot-the-difference quiz to get visitors at the Spring Festival at the Royal Welsh Showground to highlight the changes they had noticed between past and present labels.

While this approach isn't likely to engage the mass market, it's a start - and it's possible that social media, in-store marketing and advertising could play a key role in raising awareness as December nears.

What the situation does emphasise is the important role that labelling serves and that it shouldn't just be used to tick a box. If the intended audience doesn't understand it, then the time and money spent on implementing it is of little use.

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