When the Food and Drug Administration proposed a 2020 compliance date for the new Nutrition Facts label last month, some manufacturers breathed a sigh of relief, knowing they had extra time to get their products ready.
The deadline shift, however, made no difference to several manufacturers who have already started updating their nutritional labels. As of last week, there are now 7,265 products in grocery stores that sport the new label format, according to Label Insight.
Dagan Xavier, Label Insight's co-founder and vice president for data, told Food Dive that despite the delayed compliance deadline — the new labels were initially set to appear on most packages from major manufacturers by July 2018 — consumers will be seeing more of them as they shop. Since February 2016, when most of the rules governing the new label were published, Label Insight has seen a 300% growth in products sporting the new format each quarter.
Making the transition includes some complex changes, like recalculating serving sizes, switching to a standardized size for the package, figuring out brand new things such as the amount of added sugars, and taking a new look at dietary fibers.
So why are so many manufacturers working hard to beat the deadline, getting products with the new look on shelves so far before the initial deadline – much less the reset one? Manufacturers and label consultants give the same reason: Transparency.
“It builds trust and that is the key,” Xavier told Food Dive. “When you talk about transparency, transparency is all about trust. And so when we're being realistic, and the industry is given —whether it's a mandate or a kick up the bum to be more realistic — I think that's a good thing for us as consumers and will still be a very good thing for us as an industry.”
What’s in the new label?
At first glance, the new format of the label looks a lot like the old one. And while the general format isn’t changing much, the information it includes is getting an update to pair it more closely with the latest and most pertinent nutrition science today.
The Nutrition Facts label hasn’t seen many updates since it was first put into place in 1990. But when the changes were announced last year, Prime Label Consultants General Manager Jesse Zuehlke and others who translate the scientific and dietary requirements behind food labeling into something consumers can understand took notice.
“We as a company recognized it was going to be a much more significant change when we first read the proposed rule as it broke, a much more significant change than just relabeling,” Zuehlke told Food Dive. “We recognized the changes in the data and the contents of the nutrition panel, the information just simply didn't exist or wasn't going to be in a location where it was easy to find to put on the label, so it was going to be a much larger challenge than simply relabeling food products.”
Brooke Bright, a senior data manager at Label Insight, said the new label is reflective of scientific research that has changed during the last 27 years. Serving sizes have been recalculated to represent how much average consumers eat — so something like a 20-oz soda bottle will show nutritional information for someone who drinks the entire beverage, not split it into multiple servings.
Larger containers that have more than twice the amount someone generally eats — known in Food and Drug Administration terms as the reference amount customarily consumed, or RACC — will have two columns. One column will show the nutritional information for a single serving, while the other will show the nutritional information for the entire package.
"We recognized the changes in the data and the contents of the nutrition panel, the information just simply didn't exist or wasn't going to be in a location where it was easy to find to put on the label, so it was going to be a much larger challenge than simply relabeling food products.”
General manager, Prime Label Consultants
Calories, which are still the most important factor for consumers to consider, are getting a larger, more noticeable font. However, calories from fat are gone — showing that fat calories are not universally considered “bad” anymore, especially since naturally occurring better-for-you fats in items such as nuts tend to drive up those values.
Instead, there’s more emphasis on sugars — a listing for total sugars, and then a listing underneath it for added sugars. The added sugars listing shows just how much more sweetener has been put into a product — and may be inspiring many manufacturers to reformulate. Dietary fibers also are being specifically listed, letting consumers know more about the actual nutritional value of the product they are eating.
Vitamin D and potassium, two minerals that dietitians are concerned many consumers aren’t getting enough of, are added to the vitamins and minerals section. Vitamin A and vitamin C, meanwhile, are being dropped.
While some of these changes may be vexing to manufacturers whose products are not known for being healthy, Xavier and Bright both said they are all about delivering a greater level of transparency to the consumer.
“By following the new label, a brand is really acknowledging it’s not just about sales,” Bright said. “It's really about helping consumers make better and healthier decisions when they're at that store. ... The adoption of the new label is really a recognition that they're providing that transparency and those new learnings to consumers directly.”
Who’s making the switch?
Although there’s a lot of time remaining for CPG manufacturers to transition their labels, Xavier and Zuehlke said their businesses have been busy helping make the switch happen. Products from private label brands and CPG powerhouses such as Hershey and Mondelez are now sporting the new labels.
Xavier said about 40% of products with the new label are private label brands. Another place he’s seen a lot of change is in the dairy aisle.
“We’ve hypothesized that's based around the concept of shelf life,” he said. “Products in the dairy category with a smaller or shorter shelf life may be more conducive to package changing or package updates, so they've taken advantage of that.”
Another segment that seems to be picking up the new label quickly now is snacks, cookies and candy. Xavier guessed this could be because they’re doing reformulations to reduce their added sugars amounts, or maybe they’re seeing if letting consumers know exactly how much sugar has been put into their product impacts sales.
Hershey is one of the manufacturers that has been diligent about getting the new label on as many of its products as possible.
Gina Shroy, senior manager on the company’s product team for global operations technology, told Food Dive in an email the company’s iconic Hershey’s Kisses were its first product to hit shelves with the new label. As the year goes on, she wrote, consumers should be seeing many of the company’s other candies — ranging from Reese’s to York Peppermint Patties to Jolly Ranchers — with the new Nutrition Facts label.
Shroy said this isn’t because Hershey is trying to make its candies “healthier,” even though it is working toward a goal of having half of its standard or king-sized confectionery products contain 200 or fewer calories by 2022.
“We are committed to transparency and began working on the new labels long ago in anticipation of the original deadline. We didn’t let the announced delay stop the work that was already underway,” Shroy wrote in an email.
“Updating our Nutrition Facts Panel is just part of Hershey’s broader commitment to transparency and making it easier for people to access more information about their food so they can make informed choices. We know that many people value distinctive and easy-to-read food labeling as well as full transparency on what goes into their food, why it’s there and how it is sourced.”
“Updating our Nutrition Facts Panel is just part of Hershey’s broader commitment to transparency and making it easier for people to access more information about their food so they can make informed choices.”
Senior manager, Hershey's product team for global operations technology
For its commitment to labeling transparency, Hershey also has committed to adding Facts Up Front, which gives key nutritional information like calories on the front of packages, by the end of 2018. Additionally, Hershey has been one of the earliest adopters of the food industry's SmartLabel initiative, which provides consumers with detailed nutritional information through a quick scan of a QR code.
Label Insight’s Bright said consumers are definitely going to react to this kind of transparency. After all, most consumers are aware that candy contains sugar.
“With the right brand, it could really offer a competitive edge for this time,” she said. “If you have what could be considered some of the 'healthier' ice creams or yogurt or chip snacks etc., and you can put that you have a very small amount of added sugar on your product packaging, or you're low-calorie, which is one of the biggest and predominant text features on the NFP, you can gain some consumer loyalty at this time, before everyone has adopted."
With all of the outcry that led to the delay of the enactment date for the revamped Nutrition Facts label, it may seem that CPG companies just want to keep their information hidden for as long as possible. But Xavier and Zuehlke said that isn’t what’s going on.
“I think they [anyone who wants to hide information] are in the minority,” Xavier said. “I think you’ve got to be blind if you are not understanding or seeing the move in our society around food and the demand for more information, not less. … This is a step in the right direction. The biggest change to the U.S. NFP in over 20 years is something that should be celebrated. Definitely, the majority of people or companies that we have spoken to are for this. Everyone's just trying to understand how they can do it with the least amount of pain.”
"This is a step in the right direction. The biggest change to the U.S. NFP in over 20 years is something that should be celebrated. Definitely, the majority of people or companies that we have spoken to are for this. Everyone's just trying to understand how they can do it with the least amount of pain.”
Co-founder and vice president of data, Label Insight
Zuehlke, whose agency is primarily made up of dietitians, nutritionists and food scientists, said he was shocked at the question they kept receiving once the rules were finalized. It had nothing to do with the actual nutritional requirements. Manufacturers wanted to know if the newly mandated Nutrition Facts information would fit on their current package design.
“It started in many cases as a graphic-design type of project,” he said.
Once manufacturers got beyond that question, which depends a great deal on the current packaging and size of the panel, many are working full speed to get the new design done.
“We've very much hit the point now where we're filling in those blanks, and we're seeing it across the industry, ... working through those more challenging aspects that generally only affect a couple of items within a category," Zuehlke said.
He said many manufacturers have been putting together readiness evaluations throughout their supply chains to ensure everything is in place to get all of the updated information together. Some manufacturers have found gaps in their information, and they have been working to close those in order to complete the label information.
The new Nutrition Facts label, coupled with other more transparency policies, make now an exciting time to be in the labeling business, Xavier said. While there haven’t been any comprehensive consumer studies about reaction to the new label, studies show consumers care about transparent product information being available to them.
And right now, the new Nutrition Facts panel isn’t the only thing signifying a significant shift in U.S. nutritional policy. A new law will require labeling of GMO ingredients in all products. SmartLabel is coming online. The federal government appears to be poised to redefine terms including “healthy” and “natural.” And voluntary sodium reduction guidelines are encouraging CPGs to become more heart-healthy.
“All this does is create a perfect storm around the industry, around displaying and organizing your product data and being more transparent.” Xavier said.