Proposed Regulatory Modifications to Food Labelling – Making it Work for You

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Health Canada is reviewing food labelling regulations. Changes to the Nutrition Facts table and to the manner we declare ingredients and allergens on food labels are anticipated. The proposed regulatory modifications are discussed in separate articles, and are, or will be, available on ACC Label’s blog.
The US Food and Drug Administration is also reviewing its nutrition labelling regulations.

Once the new regulations come into force, food manufacturers will be allotted reasonable time to modify their labels in compliance with the new requirements. Nevertheless, they will be faced with several challenges:

  • Finding the time and resources to modify all their labels
  • Performing nutritional analyses for all their products to determine their potassium and vitamin D content
  • Gathering information on the added sugar content of the foods used as ingredients in the preparation of finished food products.
  • Dealing with the expenses associated with the regulatory changes
  • Managing the inventory during the transition phase

This article proposes ideas to make the best of regulatory changes; strategies to gain a competitive advantage, facilitate the transition and mitigate some of the inconveniences. Appendix I provides a global view of a proposed three-phase action plan.

 

Keeping Track of the Steps toward Regulatory Modifications

The key to a smooth transition is preparation. Keep abreast with Health Canada’s and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) progression with respect to the regulatory modifications. Know what to expect, and when changes are likely to occur. Thus you can prepare for changes to come.

The best way to keep informed of regulatory changes is to subscribe to Health Canada’s and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s (CFIA) email notifications (links to the subscription forms are provided in Appendix I). Thus, you will be informed of issues being discussed and you will be invited to participate in consultations.

From February 24th to March 10th 2015, the CFIA conducted face-to-face sessions in major cities across Canada with consumers and the entire food sector, from producers and manufacturers to retailers, to obtain their feedback about labelling issues such as the “Best before date” and the “ingredient list”. The feedback from these sessions will be used to develop recommendations that will lead to the modernized food labelling system. The CFIA hopes to present its recommendations in the fall of 2015.

Eventually, perhaps in 2016, Health Canada will publish the final draft of the proposed Canadian regulatory modifications in Canada Gazette Part I. Canadians will be given another opportunity to comment on the proposed regulatory modifications. Then, Health Canada may amend its regulatory proposal to take into account the comments received. Finally, the new official regulatory requirements will be published in Canada Gazette Part II. At this stage, the regulations come into force.

In USA, the process is similar. Several consultations take place before the official draft of the proposed regulatory modifications is published in the US Federal Register. The public and interested parties are invited to comment on the proposed regulatory changes, and finally the new regulations come into force when they are published in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Once the new labelling regulations come into force, in Canada as in USA, the food industry is given a reasonable time to change all their labels.

For example, in December 12, 2002, Health Canada had published its new nutritional labelling regulations in Canada Gazette, Part II. The food industry then had until December 12, 2005 to comply with the new regulations, except that very small companies were given two additional years to make the change. Similarly, when the new allergen labelling regulations were published in Canada Gazette, Part II, on February 4, 2011, the food industry then had 18 months to comply with the new requirements.

 

Ask for Help

It is possible that reading scientific and regulatory texts is not your cup of tea, and you may have a hard time participating in regulatory consultations. Rest assured; you are not alone in this situation.

Many food companies do not have Regulatory Affairs Managers on their team to help them and advise them with respect to food labelling requirements. Even large companies, who have a whole Regulatory Affairs Department, may need to outsource part of the work, as the workload may rapidly become overwhelming.

Seek Food Labelling Expertise

Before choosing a food labelling consulting firm, do your homework. Take your time. Verify their credentials. Ask for references. Start with a small labelling project to see how they work and to establish a good business relationship. Try other firms if necessary. Thus, when the new labelling regulations come into force, you will feel more confident in entrusting all your labels to that firm.

By all means, avoid “instant experts” who pop up when new regulations come into force. Too often these so-called “experts” study the new labelling requirements, but ignore older requirements that still apply. Choose a real expert, the kind that has been around for a while, especially if you are exporting your products. You would not want to have your products detained at customs.

Seek Financial Support

Check whether financial support is available from your local business organizations or from government services. You may be entitled to subsidies for the production of new food labels, especially if your company is just starting up, or if you are seeking to export your products. If you qualify for such support, prepare your application now, so the funds are available when you need them.

 

Managing Label Stock Levels

By effectively managing your label stock turnover, you will be able to better plan your transition to the new labels. The idea is to avoid overstocking so you do not need to throw out labels when the deadline to comply with the new regulations arrives.

Following the publication of the official proposed regulatory modifications in Canada Gazette Part I, we will know the time allotted for the comment period. It should probably be somewhere between 6 to 12 weeks. Therefore, there is no risk of the new regulations coming into effect before at least 3 months after publication in Canada Gazette Part I, since Health Canada will need time to review all the comments received, and amend the proposed regulations if necessary.

After publication in Canada Gazette Part II, the food industry will most likely be allotted at least 12 months (and perhaps as much as 36 months) to comply with the new regulations. It will therefore be possible for the food industry to adjust their label ordering practices (amounts of labels to order and ordering schedules) to avoid both overstocking and understocking.

If the new labels for some products are not quite ready after the regulatory changes come into effect, manufacturers should order smaller quantities of the old labels, taking into account the deadline for compliance.

Another factor to consider, when planning the transition of your product labels to the new labelling requirements, is your plan, if any, to review your product offering. If you are going to launch a new food product or improve an existing product, it would make sense to consider the time left before the new labelling requirements come into force. Unless you fear that a competitor is about to launch a novel product similar to yours, introducing a new product with the current labelling requirements after the proposed regulations are published in Canada Gazette Part I and before the final regulations are published in Canada Gazette Part II would not be the best strategy. This is not to say that product development should be slowed down during this period. However, the timing of the product launch should take into account upcoming regulatory modifications.

 

Gathering Nutritional Data

At this point in time, and until the new regulations are finalized, there is no need to rush. However, since both the Canadian and US governments are updating their nutrition labelling regulations, and both are proposing to require the declaration of potassium, vitamin D and added sugar contents of food products, one can expect that this part of the proposed regulation will be adopted. Unless an unexpected change in the proposed regulatory modifications is announced, it would make sense sometime during the summer or fall of 2015, to begin requesting this nutrition information, in addition to any other nutritional data requested from a food product vendor or a laboratory.

Products which nutritional composition is determined by laboratory analysis

  • Ask the ingredient suppliers for the added sugar content of all foods purchased.

Laboratories will generally not be able to determine whether the sugar content is naturally occurring or added sugars.

  • Whenever a product is sent for nutritional analysis, ask the laboratory to test the vitamin D and potassium content of the food products (in addition to the current basic food labelling nutritional analysis package).

Note that most laboratories currently include the potassium tests with their standard food labelling nutritional analysis package. Hence, if a product was previously analyzed in a laboratory, and its formula has not changed since, all that may be needed is a vitamin D test.

Products which nutritional composition is determined by database analysis

  • Ask the vitamin D, potassium and/or added sugar content of food products they purchase from other food manufacturers, whether for resale or for use in the manufacturing of other food products intended for retail sale. Without putting undue pressure on their suppliers, manufacturers may get better cooperation if they start requesting the information now.

Companies that use database nutritional analyses to determine the nutritional composition of their foods can gradually start updating their nutritional data as soon as they have the information from their vendors.

 

Leading or following the trend

Until the proposed regulations are finalized and become effective, manufacturers should re-assess their product offerings in relation to current and foreseeable trends. By matching the launch of the new or improved products with the new labelling requirements, a manufacturer can save on labelling replacement costs.

A good place to begin would be to question their use of sugar, salt, and fat in their products, since:

  • added sugars will appear more prominently on labels if the proposed regulations are adopted.
  • Health Canada has set sodium reduction targets for 2016. While many manufacturers have made big efforts to cut down on salt and sodium-containing food additives, considerable more work is required to reach the targets.
  • fats will appear grouped with sodium and sugars in the group of nutrients which consumption should be limited.

Considering the consumers’ growing concern for their health and the impact the new labelling requirements could have on their food choices, one can expect to see a rising trend toward foods that are less sweet, less salty and leaner.

It would therefore make sense for food manufacturers to review their product offering by either improving the nutritional profile of their products or by creating new food products that better correspond to consumer demand. It is not only a matter of reducing or eliminating what is harmful to health, but also leaning toward offering fresh tasting foods that contain enough nutrients such as calcium, iron, protein, vitamin D, potassium and dietary fibre (i.e. nutrients which should, according to the proposed regulatory modifications, be grouped in the new Nutrition Facts table among those which we should get enough of). In short, offering what consumers desire for their health and their eating pleasure.

ACC Label’s nutritionists encourage the food industry in its pursuit of improving the nutritional composition of their products. For some consumers, it may take time to get used to enjoying the flavour of foods that are not overly sweet, salty or fat. Re-educating taste buds can take a few weeks to a few months.

Think not of the sales you may lose by improving the nutritional profile of your products, but of the sales you may gain when health-conscious consumers discover your improved product offering.

Mission impossible? Absolutely not! Challenge to seek? Without a doubt!

Think strategically. Think marketing. It could pay off!


Appendix I

Table 1 – Strategic Transition to new Canadian Food Labelling Requirements

Action Plan

Phase I (NOW)

Before Publication in Canada Gazette Part I
(preliminary regulatory proposal)

Phase II

After Publication in
Canada Gazette Part I
(official regulatory proposal)

Phase III

After Publication in Canada Gazette Part II
(official regulations)

Keeping track of
the steps toward
regulatory modifications

Subscribe to receive email updates from:

Inform your employees of what to expect.

Check with your suppliers if they are prepared to collaborate in a timely fashion.

Inform your employees of the new regulations.

 

Know your deadline for the label transition.

Branding strategy

If you want to freshen your corporate image with a new label design, meet with your graphic artist now.

Prepare a label design template taking into account the proposed labelling modifications.

Finalize the label design template based on final regulations.

Regulatory support

Find a good food labelling consulting firm that will be able to help you when needed. Test their services with small projects now.

Find another food labelling consultant if necessary.

Discuss with the chosen consultant:

  • the labelling changes required; and
  • the best approach to efficiently review all the labels at the best possible cost, taking into account your label stock levels.

Create your new labels.

Plan time for the review and correction of label proofs.

Financial planning

Estimate the costs of the labelling switch and budget accordingly.

Enquire about potential financial support. If you are eligible, prepare your application.

   

Control 
label stocks

Control your label stocks and

know their turnover rate.

If you need to order new labels/packaging, consider that:

  • the new regulations should come into effect soon;
  • 18 to 36 months should be allotted to the food industry to change all their labels (the exact transition period will be stated in Canada Gazette Part II).

Change your labels.

Update
nutritional data

Gradually start gathering nutritional data for each of your products. In addition to the current nutrients required for the Nutrition Facts table, you will most likely need to obtain the vitamin D and potassium content of each of your food products.

Verify the proposed regulatory modifications with respect to the nutrients to declare on the label.

Continue gathering nutritional data for all your products, taking into account the official proposed requirements.

Prepare Nutrition Facts tables.

Determine
added sugar content

Gradually ask your suppliers to start providing the added sugar content of their products.

Verify the proposed regulatory modifications with respect to the added sugar to declare on the label.

Follow-up with your suppliers.

Verify the final regulatory requirements with respect to the declaration of added sugars on food labels.

Follow-up with your suppliers.

Review your ingredient lists.

Marketing Strategy

Product offering

Review your marketing strategy and follow the trend toward a better nutritional offering.

Consider reformulating your products to reduce their sugar, salt and/or fat content.

When developing new products, keep in mind the trend toward healthier foods.

When appropriate, add more fibre-rich ingredients, as well as sources of vitamin D, calcium, potassium and iron.

Test your new product formulas.

Be ready to launch the new products when the new labelling requirements come into force.

Launch your new products.

Marketing Strategy

Marketing Campaign

Prepare a marketing blitz.

Verify the regulatory compliance of your marketing message.

Launch your marketing campaign.

 

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