In May 2016, the FDA announced the Nutrition Facts Panel will get a makeover, the agency's first revisions to the Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990 in more than 20 years. Most food and beverage processors will have to comply with the new rules for packaged foods by July 26, 2018. Companies with sales of less than $10 million a year have until 2019. Which means 2017 is the year to get the required label changes, and possibly formulation changes, under way.
For years, health advocates urged consumers to read the ingredients on package labels, and until recently, they largely ignored the advice. But with the release of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, which made substantive changes in our understanding of sodium, saturated fats and added sugars, they're starting to get the message.
While the label size is the same as before, here are some key changes:
- A larger, bold font will prominently list calories and serving sizes to more accurately reflect the way people buy and eat food. There's no way to miss calorie counts.
- A single serving will be more realistic to reflect how much people currently eat at one time. Let's face it: People eat more now than they used to. A serving of ice cream, for example, will now be two-thirds of a cup, not half a cup; soft drinks will go from 8 to 12 oz. Yet in some cases, serving sizes may become smaller, as the new requirements reflect an average portion.
- A declaration in grams and percentages of daily value (percent DV) for "added sugars" will indicate how much sugar was added to the product. It should allow consumers to distinguish between sugars that occur inherently and sugar added during processing. The FDA says it's difficult to meet nutrient needs and stay within calorie limits if more than 10 percent of total daily calories come from added sugars.
- Some previously listed vitamins will be replaced with vitamins Americans need more of. The FDA will no longer require food companies to list amounts of vitamin A and C in products, as research shows Americans aren’t deficient in these nutrients. We need more vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium, so those nutrients must appear on the new labels. Manufacturers must declare the actual amount in addition to the percent DV. Choline was added as a voluntary nutrient with a DV of 550mg, whereas earlier it wasn't allowed on the panel at all.
- The "calories from fat" description is being removed both to provide more space for the calorie count and because scientific research shows it’s more important to eat certain types of healthy fat rather than to restrict all fat as a nutrient. "Total Fat," "Saturated Fat" and "Trans Fat" will continue to be required.
- The DVs on sodium and fiber have changed (the former, lower; the latter, higher) and there has been a significant increase in the DV for calcium, from 1,000 to 1,300mg. This can add to the challenges when fortifying some products with calcium phosphate, citrate or carbonate, where calcium is not delivered as a pure ingredient. Same with phosphorus and potassium.
- "Dual-column" labels can be used to indicate both "per-serving" and "per-package" calorie and nutrition information for certain multi-serving food products that might be consumed in one sitting, such as a pint of ice cream or a 3-oz. bag of chips. Dual-column labels will allow people to understand how many calories and nutrients they get if they eat or drink the entire package/unit at one time.
The agency also is updating certain reference values used in the declaration of percent of daily values of some nutrients. The footnote table that lists the reference values for 2,000- and 2,500-calorie diets is gone. A streamlined footnote will read, "*The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice."
The new label requires pre-approval for some fiber ingredients previously included in the dietary fiber calculation. The FDA last May redefined dietary fiber to naturally occurring fibers; all others will have to prove a physiological benefit. The agency also increased the DV of dietary fiber, which includes both soluble and insoluble fiber, from 25g to 28g.
As of presstime, the label for meat, poultry, eggs and other products regulated by the USDA is still being reworked to be in line with the FDA's changes – mostly updating the list of nutrients required or permitted to be declared and adjusting to the revised DVs and Reference Daily Intake (RDI) values.
Implementing the Nutrition Facts label changes could cost $500 million a year, the FDA estimates. However, the agency claims the changes will also provide about $2 billion annually in benefits such as reduced health costs over 20 years.
Most are already on it
"The updated label makes improvements to this valuable resource so consumers can make more informed food choices – one of the most important steps a person can take to reduce the risk of heart disease and obesity," FDA commissioner Robert Califf said after the label update was announced.
Likewise, former First Lady Michelle Obama applauded the revisions. "This is going to make a real difference in providing families across the country the information they need to make healthy choices."
Yet food purchases are less driven by what's on the Nutrition Facts panel than what's listed as ingredients, notes Andrew Mandzy, director of strategic insights at Nielsen. Some consumers aren't even reading so much as they're counting: About 61 percent are convinced the shorter the ingredients list, the healthier the product. Many are looking beyond the packages themselves.
In 2014, Nielsen said 48 percent of consumers went online for health information. Last year, 68 percent did. Use of technology such as calorie-tracking apps is also up, Mandzy explained. "There's a shift in how people are thinking about 'better for you.' People are looking for back-to-basics, simpler ingredients."
Large food processors like Campbell Soup Co. (www.campbellsoupcompany.com) are moving quickly on labeling revisions. "We are currently working to implement the updates to the Nutrition Facts panel on approximately 2,000 products and will have this done in time by the implementation deadline," said Campbell's Lisa Thorsten, director of regulatory affairs. "The updates will make food labels more useful for the way people live today, and in a way that's easy to understand, and based on science."
Herr's Foods (www.herrs.com), a Nottingham, Pa., snack maker, has assembled a cross-functional team of R&D, marketing, and supply chain staff, along with external packaging suppliers, to ease the transition. The greatest challenge will be revamping numerous package labels in the next 18 months and the associated costs.
"We'll revise close to 700 individual packages, with each pack having a completely updated nutrition panel reflecting the required changes," explains Daryl Thomas, senior vice president of sales & marketing. "While this project is an expensive investment, we hope it improves our packaging nutrition transparency for all of our consumers."
Thomas says Herr's won't need to make too many changes to calculate nutrient amounts, "but many new products will be formulated by adding ingredients or components, such as seeds, vegetable proteins or specialty grains, which will contribute healthful nutrients."
"Though regulatory changes can be time consuming and costly, we offer our full support," adds Haley Thomas, director of sales & marketing at Ballreich Bros. (www.ballreich.com), a family-owned regional potato chips and snacks manufacturer in Tiffin, Ohio. "When consumed in moderation, snack foods can be a sensible treat for most diets. The [label] changes will help consumers moderate their diets and, in turn, become more educated and healthier."
In its efforts to create a healthier chip, Ballreich offers both a No Salt Added potato chip as well as a Sweet Potato chip. "We will continue to strive to find ways to make a healthier snack without sacrificing taste," Thomas says.
The Grocery Manufacturers Assn. welcomed the revision. "The GMA shares FDA’s commitment to improving nutrition labeling regulations and it commends the agency’s significant investment of time and resources to update this important tool for consumers," said Leon Bruner, GMA's chief science officer.
No sugar coating it
One of the most widely discussed changes, calling out added sugars as a separate line on the new label, could prompt many companies to reformulate their products to minimize how much sugar has been added.
Incorporating that extra line was applauded by consumer advocacy groups and certain health organizations that maintain the change will help shoppers make smarter choices.
The FDA ruling defines added sugars as those either added during the processing of foods or are packaged as such, and include sugars (free, mono- and disaccharides), sugars from syrups and honey and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices in excess of what would be expected from the same volume of 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice of the same type.
Excluded from "added sugars" are whole fruit, fruit pieces, dried fruit, pulps and purees. If a fruit juice blend is reconstituted such that the sugar concentration is less than what would be expected in the same amount of the single-strength juice, the added sugar declaration would be zero. But if the sugar concentration is greater, the amount of the excess sugar must be declared as added sugars. Sugars from honey are deemed added sugars in the final rule.
Many manufacturers have started reducing added sugar and reformulating their products. In summer 2016, Kind Snacks (www.kindsnacks.com), New York, claimed to be the first national snack brand to list added sugar content on its 60-plus snacks. Kind's decision stems from concern that intake of added sugars has increased by more than 30 percent in over three decades. The labeling move nearly two years ahead of the FDA deadline was a way to underscore its commitment to transparency.
"Publishing the added sugar content in our snacks is a natural next step in our ongoing commitment to transparency," explains Daniel Lubetzky, Kind's founder and CEO. Stephanie Perruzza, Kind's registered dietitian, adds, "When the FDA proposed that brands disclose the added sugar content, we immediately stepped forward and voiced our support."
"We're committed to creating snacks with as little sugar as possible without sacrificing taste. Our new labels will take some time to complete, but consumers should see select products featuring them in early 2017," she says. Kind cuts sugars by swapping sweetened fruit with unsweetened fruit and reducing the added sugar in ingredients like yogurt coatings. The new bars have a bit less sweetness but more of the taste of the fruit and nuts, she adds.
General Mills has spent more than a decade reducing sugar in products, especially those marketed to children. "General Mills has steadily reduced sugar in the food we make in the U.S. for more than 10 years, and has made significant strides, especially in yogurt and cereal, while maintaining the great taste consumers demand," says Amy Loew, senior nutrition scientist at General Mills' Bell Institute of Health and Nutrition (www.bellinstitute.com), Minneapolis.
Soft drink and candy makers, like PepsiCo, Coca-Cola and Nestle, whose products are considered among the main sources of added sugar, also have pledged to lower sugar content. All are trying to adapt to changing consumer trends.
Today, 40 percent of PepsiCo's global beverages contain 100 or fewer calories per serving, the company reports. "By 2025, we'll expand that to two-thirds of our global beverage portfolio. Over the next 10 years, we will reformulate carbonated soft drinks and invest to create new low- and zero-calorie beverages. This includes launching smaller pack sizes for full-sugar carbonated soft drinks and promoting lower-calorie beverages with fewer added sugars."
PepsiCo also stated it will cut saturated fat in three-quarters of its global food portfolio to 1.1g or less per 100 calories and lower sodium in three-quarters of its global food portfolio to 1.3mg or less per calorie.
Look for the agency to conduct outreach and education efforts on the new requirements. The final Nutrition Facts Panel rule is available from the Federal Register website.