Common mistakes in regulatory labelling and how to avoid them

Common mistakes in regulatory labelling and how to avoid them
Georgina Stewart
Georgina StewartThe Nutrient Gap Ltd

Posted: Thu 12th Jan 2023

A food label is there to ensure the consumers have all the information they need to make safe, informed purchase decisions, from allergens, health claims, flavourings, additives and nutritional information.

A label is a way of bringing product information to life and being transparent about the product, so it builds the trust of the consumer and eventually you gain more profit.

Designing a food label can be a daunting task for an entrepreneur bringing a new product to market. Even after you check the boxes for nutrition, product claims, and display requirements, you still have to make it work with your packaging design.

Many brands invest in support to check their homework and protect their brand and customers, but what if you cannot afford such a service? Paying for regulatory advice isn’t really on your radar. Let’s say it how it is – it’s pretty tough out there at the moment and every penny spent means four or five times more pennies you need to bring in to keep you afloat.

But if you don’t have the resources to make sure your label is 100% compliant with every last regulation, then at least avoid the following mistakes — they could cost you your business.

Mislabelling: The biggest problem when it comes to recall

This issue damages reputation at best and leads to dangerous situations at worst. Many food recalls are related to undeclared allergens. This is the result of two easily avoidable mistakes:

  1. the ingredient listing on the packaging doesn’t match the product in the packaging

  2. the allergens in the product are not displayed prominently to the consumer

How to avoid this mistake: Make sure your ingredient list is complete and you are identifying any of the 14 allergens.

What it will cost you: Because of the potentially life-threatening nature of an allergic reaction to food, food manufacturers typically conduct an immediate, voluntary recall of all affected products.

Risk: HIGH

Content-based errors

Small errors can attract unwanted attention – labelling issues often deal with the structure and appearance of the label, when it comes to content-based errors.

When your spelling, word choice and grammar are poor, it can be hard to understand what your label is trying to say. These errors might not be impossible to read, but they look unprofessional and lower trust among the consumer.

How to avoid this mistake: Have you heard of the phrase – should have gone to Specsavers"…? It is true - two pairs of eyes are actually better than one.

What will it cost you: Unwanted attention, embarrassment, trust.

Risk: LOW

Unauthorised health claims

There are clearly defined rules when it comes to the types of claims you can make about a food product’s effect on the consumer’s health.

The easiest way to guarantee the wrath of Trading Standards with a swift food recall is to make an unauthorised health or medicinal claim. This means making a claim about how the product or one of its ingredients affects your body or provides some sort of therapeutic impact.

It is unlawful to make this type of claim on the product label itself but also on marketing materials (e.g. the company website), even if you have scientific evidence to back it up.

While we have an authorised nutrition & health claim register in the UK, many new foods such as botanicals and CBD products are still on hold and need to be authorised before use. Don’t make things up just because other products do.

How to avoid this mistake: Do not make any unauthorised claim about your product’s impact on the body or treatment of any ailment. Make sure any claims related to nutrition or the benefits of special ingredients align with the regulations.

What it will cost you: All of the products and materials containing the unauthorised claim, the possibility of brand damage and the possibility of expensive lawsuits from customers who suffered damages due to this claim.

Risk: HIGH

Standard of identity: None or misleading

Labelling legislation requirements, clearly require most packaged foods to declare what the product is. This is why Nutella must describe itself as Hazelnut Spread. While there is a great deal of controversy and open questions surrounding naming conventions for milk alternatives and meat alternatives, this isn’t the case for most products.

How to avoid this mistake: Include the common name for your product on the front label which will form part of the legal name. The legal name will then be situated above the ingredient list on the back of the pack.

What it will cost you: Mainstream retailers may refuse to carry the product until this issue is remedied.


Undeclared ingredients

Even when there are no allergen implications, the discovery of an undeclared ingredient in a product can bring public outrage to a boil and even lead to a food scare. Quite simply, consumers don’t like finding out that they have been lied to, particularly about what’s in their food.

How to avoid this mistake: Work with trusted suppliers and conduct supplier verification activities so you can have confidence in the ingredients you purchase. Make sure your food labels and ingredients reflect changes made to the product formula.

The deliberate, ongoing failure to accurately convey ingredient composition is more common than we know. Large-scale food fraud can go undetected for years before being uncovered and technology is sometimes altogether incapable of detecting when ingredients are replaced with a cheaper alternative.

What it will cost you: The ongoing failure to accurately declare ingredient composition could result in lawsuits, fines, and total destruction of your brand.


Mandatory background information for prepacked foods

Regulation EU No 169/2011 establishes the general principles, requirements and responsibilities governing food information, and in particular food labelling. It lays down the means to guarantee the right of consumers to information and procedures for the provision of food information, taking into account the need to provide sufficient flexibility to respond to future developments and new information requirements (Article 1, par. 2).

The Regulation applies to food business operators at all stages of the food chain, where their activities concern the provision of food information to consumers. It applies to all foods intended for the final consumer, including foods delivered by mass caterers, and foods intended for supply to mass caterers (Article 1, par. 3).

The Regulation applies without prejudice to labelling requirements provided for in specific Union provisions applicable to particular foods (Article 1, par. 4).

Member States may, in addition to the mandatory particulars referred to in Article 9(1) and in Article 10, in accordance with the procedure laid down in Article 45, adopt national measures requiring additional mandatory particulars for specific types of foods, if justified on clearly specified grounds (Article 39, par. 1).

Prepacked foods

For the labelling of prepacked foods, the Regulation sets out a list of mandatory particulars that are required to be provided to the final consumer (Article 9, par. 1):

  • Name of the food; (plus description (optional) and legal name)

  • List of ingredients

  • Any ingredient or processing aid listed in Annex II or derived from a substance or product listed in Annex II causing allergies or intolerances used in the manufacture or preparation of a food and still present in the finished product, even if in an altered form

  • Quantity of certain ingredients or categories of ingredients;

  • Net quantity of the food (in the same field of vision of legal name);

  • Date of minimum durability ('best before' date) or the 'use by' date (position on the back of the pack);

  • Any special storage conditions and/or conditions of use;

  • Name or business name and address of the food business operator referred to in Article 8, par.1;

  • Country of origin or place of provenance provided for in Article 26;

  • Instructions for use where it would be difficult to make appropriate use of the food in the absence of such instructions;

  • With respect to beverages containing more than 1..2 % by volume of alcohol, the actual alcoholic strength by volume;

  • Nutrition declaration – mandatory per 100g/ml.

Additional mandatory particulars for specific types or categories of foods are laid down in Annex III (Article 10, par. 1).

For more information on all things nutrition and regulation, connect with Georgina now!

Georgina Stewart
Georgina StewartThe Nutrient Gap Ltd

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