food labeling changes

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ESHA discusses four potential food labeling changes that may motivate foodmakers to reformulate

Health-conscious consumers are becoming avid food label readers, and proposed new rules from the Food and Drug Administration may soon make it easier for grocery shoppers to make better choices. The agency has proposed the first set of extensive changes to nutrition labels on packaged foods since the FDA first started requiring the information on packages more than two decades ago. The new rules would require more realistic portion sizes, an additional column on packages with two to four servings showing nutritional information for the entire package and disclosures on added sugars and other ingredients.

Food makers had until Aug. 1 to submit their comments on the proposed rules to the FDA. Recently, ESHA Research database manager and registered dietitian Elizabeth Braithwaite shared an in-depth look at the proposed food labeling changes and why they’re coming now.

SmartBrief: What’s the thinking behind the changes and why are they coming now?

Elizabeth Braithwaite: Regulations for the labeling of packaged foods in the U.S. have not significantly changed since they were first introduced in 1993. Over the years, nutrition research has grown and Americans’ eating patterns have changed. The FDA is proposing changes to the Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts labels in order to provide updated nutrition information to assist consumers in maintaining healthy dietary practices that help to prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Americans are eating larger portion sizes than they were 20 years ago, so the proposed regulations recommend that package serving sizes better reflect what consumers are actually eating. The proposed food labeling changes include adding a mandatory declaration for added sugars, potassium and vitamin D, updating the Daily Values or dietary recommendations, updating the serving size definitions and updating the label format to better emphasize calories and serving size.

SB: How extensively will brands need to change their labels and packaging to comply with the new FDA rules? Are companies starting now?

EB: The proposed nutrition labeling regulations provide challenges and opportunities for the industry. There are four primary changes that may motivate food manufacturers to reformulate in order to maintain health and nutrient content claims and make products more attractive to consumers.

1. Changes in daily values

In the proposed regulations, the Daily Values have been assessed and revised to reflect the latest scientific evidence. Due to these changes, current formulations will not reflect the same level of adequacy as before.

For example, manufacturers who currently fortify their products with 100% of the Daily Value of vitamin B-12, will have a Daily Value of 250% if they continue to fortify at the same level. Manufacturers of ready-to-eat breakfast cereals often fortify their products to the 100% level, and consumers may not view a higher percentage in a positive light, causing more incentive to reformulate.

2. Changes in portion sizes

In the proposed rules, the guidelines for portion size regulation in the Recommended Amounts Customarily Consumed have been updated to reflect the larger portion sizes that Americans commonly consume. This change could affect products that currently report health claims or nutrient content claims, since these claims are based on the RACC. If after a change in RACC the product is no longer able to make the previously reported health or nutrient content claims, the manufacturer would either need to remove the claim from the product label or reformulate to continue making the claim.

For example, currently a low fat ice cream with three grams of fat per half-cup serving is eligible to make a low fat claim on the label. The proposed rules would double the RACC for ice cream from half-cup to one cup. This increase in portion size would double the fat content from three to six grams of fat per RACC, making the product ineligible to keep the low fat claim.

3. Changes in the definition of dietary fiber

The new labeling regulations are proposing a new definition of dietary fiber. The new definition counts dietary fiber that has a physiological effect that is beneficial to human health and excludes both soluble and insoluble non-digestible carbohydrates. This change could affect products that make fiber claims but include fiber that does not meet the new definition.

For example, currently a breakfast bar that contains six grams of dietary fiber per 40 gram bar can claim “excellent source of fiber” on the product label. If the source of fiber, however, is from an isolated/synthetic fiber that does not meet the new definition, the manufacturer would either need to reformulate with a fiber that meets the new definition, or remove the claim from the product package.

4. Reformulating to make products more attractive to consumers

Industry may be motivated to reformulate by the increased visibility of added sugars. Added sugars are generally something that should be consumed in moderation, so manufacturers may choose to reformulate if their current products report an amount that seems high. Added sugars are defined as calorie sweeteners that are either packaged as such or added during the processing of foods.

For example, currently a fruit drink that contains 25 grams of sugar, including 15 grams of added sugar, only reports 25 grams of total sugar on the nutrition label. With the new added sugar rule, the drink would report 25 grams of total sugar and 15 grams of added sugar.

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