US food industry looks to new labels

6 August 2013

WASHINGTON DC: Major food manufacturers and retailers in the US are joining forces to boost awareness about a new front-of-product labelling system that they hope will provide more clarity for consumers and assuage regulatory concerns.

The 'Facts Up Front' labelling system will receive $50m for a promotional campaign early next year that will be funded by the Grocery Marketing Association, which represents major food companies, and the Food Marketing Institute, the trade body for food retailers, Advertising Age reports.

The new system, which has been operating quietly since 2011, carries nutritional information on the front of packages, showing each product's level of saturated fat, calories, sodium and sugar.

The voluntary initiative is being supported by some of the biggest names in the industry, such as Kraft Foods, General Mills, Kellogg, Hershey and Mondelez International, and the Grocery Marketing Association expects that up to 80% of products from participating companies will have 'Facts Up Front' labels by the end of the year.

'Facts Up Front' replaces the industry's previous 'Smart Choices' labelling system, which was ended in 2009 after widespread criticism that it appeared to approve foods with high fat and sugar content.

However, although the new system is intended to improve information available to consumers, some leading nutritionists remain sceptical.

Referring to the option open to marketers to list two positive attributes on the packaging, Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, accused the labels of mixing up positive and negative nutritional attributes.

She said this would lead to obfuscation, so that nobody would look at the labels or understand them. She also suggested it was a way of getting round the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Health campaigners advocate a star-based system proposed by the Institute of Medicine that awards one to three stars for healthy products, while those that have unacceptably high levels of fat, sodium and sugar receive no stars at all.

The FDA said it would assess the usefulness of 'Facts Up Front' to consumers and warned it would take action against marketers who do not comply with its rules.

Data sourced from Advertising Age; additional content by Warc staff