Getting Ahead on the New Nutrition Facts Panel

Some food and beverage companies planned ahead to meet the original 2018 deadline for updating their labels, as some already are appearing on store shelves. This is perceived as a sign of increased transparency.

By Lauren R. Hartman, Product Development Editor

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The Nutrition Facts panel makeover, the FDA's first revision to the 1990 Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) in more than 20 years, has put pressure on many product developers to recalculate servings and labeling requirements for their products. They will have to modify serving and maybe even package sizes, add a separate listing for "added sugars" and revise the overall graphic format to comply with the updated regulations, which reflect the evolving scientific evidence related to dietary factors and the risk of chronic diseases.

The update, mandated by the Obama administration, will also highlight micronutrients Americans need more of (vitamin D and potassium, possibly choline), while some old favorites will be replaced (vitamins A and C). Many serving sizes will increase and calorie counts will be more prominent in larger, bolder type. Fiber is subject to the FDA's new definition of dietary fiber as naturally occurring. Pre-approval will be required for some fibers previously included in the dietary fiber calculation.

A delay of the ruling to 2020 (for most food companies) was a welcome relief for some manufacturers, knowing they have extra time to get their products ready. But since February 2016, when most of the rules governing the new label were published, Label Insight (www.labelinsight.com) reported a 300 percent growth in products labeled with the new format each quarter. The group says more than 8,000 products circulating this summer featured the updated label format. Working with brands and the FDA to increase consumer transparency, Label Insight estimated some 15,000 items would be in stores with the new Nutrition Facts panel by the end of 2017.

New Chunky Soup LabelMajor brands, including Hershey, Bimbo, Campbell Soup and Mondelez, are among the food companies already using the new label on at least some of their products. Gearing up their supply chains early in efforts to smooth the transition, these manufacturers prepared to meet the original July 2018 deadline, when the new labels were first set to appear.

Though small in volume compared with what a General Mills-sized company has to contend with, all products from Nourish Snacks (www.nourishsnacks.com) − granola morsels of whole-grain oats, chia, chocolate, apples, blueberries, bananas and other fruits − already bear the updated Nutrition Facts Panel.

"During the summer of 2016, we renovated our brand with a new identity and a complete package redesign," says Joy Bauer, founder and chief nutrition officer, also a nutrition author and the health and nutrition expert on The Today Show. "This renovation project was the perfect opportunity to pre-emptively update the Nutrition Facts panel in that same spirit of transparency."

In order to recalculate added sugars, dietary fibers and vitamin statements, Bauer says Nourish Snacks enlisted "top-notch" product development and labeling software. "This helped easily formulate and organize all of our nutrition information into the new format and didn't take very long," she says. "We simply adjusted our label to reflect the new FDA format, then we incorporated the adjustments into our package [re]design. Our product formulations stayed the same, and we didn't have any conversion costs."

Other approaches

Natures Path barsNature's Path (us.naturespath.com) began implementing a "flow-through" label rollout approach, updating its nutrition tables one product category at a time, and already has its granola, cereal and bars in stores featuring updated Nutrition Facts panels.

The company was revising its products' nutritional information when the FDA set the original deadline. The old packaging will be phased out as products are sold and store shelves are restocked. "It made sense to combine the rebrand with the nutritional changes to eliminate additional design work and packaging waste," explains Arjan Stephens, executive vice president of the family-owned cereals, snack bar and breakfast products company. "We expect all of our packaging to have updated nutritional information by the end of 2018."

Although Nature's Path didn't need to change or reformulate its products, it adjusted servings -- all 30g cereal servings had to be increased to 40g servings, and all 55g servings were adjusted to 60g. "For our toaster pastry category, the serving size changed to two tarts (previously one)," Stephens adds. "We are now required to list the Nutrition Facts for the entire carton (six pastries) in a dual-column [label] format on-pack. For our waffles category, we were also required to add Nutrition Facts for the entire carton in a dual-column format. The costs associated with the revisions were just as we expected, as we were able to complete most of the work in-house."

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