Late last month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized the new Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods, which includes some major changes to the nutrients required to be listed, the way the serving sizes are written, and the label design. The final rule becomes effective on July 26, 2016, and the compliance date is July 26, 2018, for manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales and July 26, 2019, for manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales.
What impact will the changes have on ingredient and food manufacturers? Food Technology magazine recently spoke with Roger Legg, senior chemist at RL Food Testing Laboratory, about how manufacturers should prepare for the compliance dates and what the change may mean for them in terms of product development and reformulation moving forward.
Q: Are these changes what you expected to see? Any surprises?
Legg: We [at RL Food Testing Laboratory] have been closely following these pending changes since the nutrition initiative by Michelle Obama. The final regulations seem to be in line with what was expected in the industry—including added sugars. Even though added sugars received the majority of the push back, we expected that it would indeed be included in the final ruling. (Read Legg’s ePerspective blog post from September 2015 specifically about the added sugars change.)
Q: What will the impact be for new product development and product formulation?
Legg: The impact on product development will be on two fronts: the ingredient manufacturers and the finished goods food manufacturers. Ingredient companies will have to provide the new nutrients required in labeling, such as added sugars, potassium and vitamin D—provisions they were not required to do prior to this announcement.
The finished goods food manufacturers will need to collaborate with their ingredient vendors to get additional information about the components of their ingredients so it can be supplied to us as part of a recipe submittal package.
Additionally, with the changes to the RACC [Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed], some food manufacturers will need to be more realistic in their serving size statements that reflect an actual serving size versus a size that would have allowed them to feature a smaller calorie count per serving. Sugary foods and high calorie foods will probably see the biggest change in how their final product looks on the new Nutrition Facts label.
From a product development standpoint, we would imagine there will be more collaboration with nutritionists and food scientists to develop lower calorie, “healthier” food ingredient options to enhance flavors more naturally.
Q: How will companies with well-established products and brands approach the new label changes? Will they reformulate?
Legg: From a marketing perspective, food manufacturers will need to review current nutrition and health claims to determine if there needs to be some reformulation to support these claims. In addition, reformulating some recipes may be required to allow the new serving sizes to reflect a more attractive calorie count and added sugar disclosure.
We see indications that the grocery industry may see this as being a critical piece of information for their customers and will take a stand to push their vendors toward the new label faster than the FDA requirement. This may make larger companies comply immediately to be competitive with other food manufacturers, rather than wait the two years until the July 26, 2018, compliance date. Likewise, smaller manufacturers will likely change to the new format prior to their extended grace period of an additional year given to manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual sales. The challenge for them, and for us, is to get the ingredients’ needed nutrition information to generate the revised Nutrition Facts label.
Q: Given your job and what your company does, how do you see the next two years playing out?
Legg: As mentioned before, we believe the grocery chains will drive a lot of the compliance forward faster than the provided compliance timeframe. We anticipate some delay in receiving the updated nutritional values for the new required nutrients, such as added sugars, from the manufacturers of food products used for ingredients. These values are not required on the current nutrition label and so might not be readily available to our customers to update their labels.
Our software provider, ESHA, has confirmed that the database has been updated with added sugars for some ingredients. These updates include foods that meet the definition of added sugar by the FDA like a syrup, as well as other foods that do not contain sugar. It will, however, take some time for the data to be updated for foods with a combination of added and naturally occurring sugars.
We look forward to helping the larger food manufacturers with overflow label development (they do most of their label work internally) as well as helping our small to medium size manufacturers that represent the largest segment of food producers in America.
Roger Legg, senior chemist
RL Food Testing Laboratory