The Food and Drug Administration said in a final guidance document issued June 18 that it would not require honey or maple syrup products to list in Nutrition Facts panels how many grams of added sugars they contain. However, such single-ingredient items must include the percent Daily Value for added sugars so consumers know how much they add to the total diet. The deadline for compliance was extended to July 1, 2021.
The agency also said it would allow voluntary use of a "†" symbol after the added sugars percent Daily Value declaration. This would refer consumers to a footnote inside the Nutrition Facts panel explaining the amount of added sugars one serving of the product contributes to the diet and to the percent Daily Value for added sugars.
For cranberry products such as Ocean Spray's dried Craisins and sweetened cranberry beverages, they must declare added sugar in grams and also the percent Daily Value for added sugars, the FDA said. But makers of sweetened cranberry products may also use a symbol leading to a statement outside the Nutrition Facts panel noting sugars are added to such items "to improve the palatability of naturally tart cranberries." The agency said this guidance hadn't changed from the draft one issued in February 2018.
The FDA's decision gives producers of honey, pure maple syrup, agave syrup and other single-ingredient sugars and syrups what they wanted since most objected to listing added sugars when none are actually added to their products.
The FDA did give manufacturers additional time to comply. The agency seems to be trying to balance regulatory requirements with consumer information so those who read product packaging might have a better sense of why the added sugars are there.
"Our intent with this additional information is to help American consumers more easily understand how certain sweetened cranberry products can be part of a healthy dietary pattern," Susan Mayne, director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, said in a statement.
Brian Wick, executive director of the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association, told the Boston Globe that allowing a voluntary symbol and accompanying footnote was "a good compromise" for the industry.
"Cranberries are very low in natural sugar, which makes them somewhat challenging for the average consumer to consume in its natural form," he said. "We support this label change as a tool for the consumer to better understand their buying choices."
It's possible listing added sugars in grams and the percent Daily Value for added sugars, plus the voluntarily explanatory note, could cause confusion about exactly what's in the affected cranberry products. It's also not certain whether consumers will read the added sugars listing let alone a footnote elsewhere on the label explaining why they're listed.
Many consumers say they want more ingredient information on food and beverage labels even though they sometimes ignore it. Consumers may not notice the new material since there are already so many symbols and other information on product packaging, but it's possible the result will be more understanding about added sugars and their effect on dietary habits.
Manufacturers of the impacted products have about two years to change the information on the Nutrition Facts panels — if they haven't already — and take the time and money to revise and reprint labels. They might even consider reformulations to reduce the amount of added sugars in their products, which would be another big budget item that may appeal to calorie-conscious consumers.
Some food and beverage makers — including Hershey, Campbell Soup and Mondelez — anticipated the label changes and are already using new Nutrition Facts labels on their products. Companies wanting to get ahead of these latest regulations have likely implemented as many of the FDA's new regulations as possible.
The agency has other final guidance to issue for the revised Nutrition Facts panel, which is being updated for the first time in 20 years. The FDA announced last month it planned to exempt allulose from the amount of added sugars or "total sugars" that will have to be listed. Allulose — a lower-calorie sweetener made by using enzymes to convert fructose from corn and other plants — will still count toward the caloric value of food on the label, but at a revised lower calorie count, the agency said.