FDA flip-flops on Kind's 'healthy' label, will re-evaluate the term's definition
- The FDA reversed its original stance on the use of the term "healthy" on the labels of Kind's snack bar products, according to a news release Tuesday morning. Kind can now use "healthy" on its packaging again, as the company had before receiving its FDA warning letter more than a year ago.
- The FDA also confirmed it will re-evaluate its 20-year-old definition of the term "healthy," following a petition Kind issued last December that requested the FDA amend the definition.
- Last April, FDA called out Kind's use of the "healthy" label claim because of select products' saturated fat content, which exceeded the maximum allowable limit for use of that term.
After receiving its FDA warning letter last year, Kind learned more about the regulations its products were not complying with. The company said those regulations did not consider foods like nuts, avocado, and salmon to be healthy.
For the past several decades, the government fell to the side of vilifying all fats in official dietary guidelines, and major food companies responded with an entire industry of fat-free, "diet"-friendly products.
Now, consumers are less concerned with "dieting" than they are now with being "healthy" and knowing where the ingredients in their foods and beverages come from. More research emerged that suggests saturated fat may not be contributors to weight gain and heart disease.
Pressure from Kind, the industry as a whole, public health advocates, and consumers may have all played a role here. Whatever the ultimate reasoning for the FDA's decision, any potential change to the "healthy" definition will be felt industrywide, particularly in food marketing.
Prior to this incident, products like fat-free pudding and sugary cereals were able to bear a "healthy" label because they were low in fat. But with the FDA's latest stance on consumers limiting their sugar intake, low-fat products that are high in simple carbohydrates and sugar or artificial sweeteners may lose the ability to label themselves as "healthy" under the FDA's new definition.
These terms and definitions are important to suss out because they create confusion. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that nearly three-quarters of consumers shop for food and beverage products labeled "natural." However, the term does not yet have an official government definition, nor are companies regulated in their use of the term.
In November, the FDA opened a comment period for the public to weigh in on what they believe the term "natural" should entail, as discrepancies exist between consumers' expectations and manufacturers' ingredients lists. That comment period closes Tuesday. As "natural" is an extension of "healthy" in the minds of consumers, whatever the FDA determines is an appropriate definition for one will undoubtedly have an impact on the definition of the other.