FRONT OF PACKAGE PERIL AND POTENTIAL
FRONT-OF-PACKAGE PERIL AND POTENTIAL [EXCERPT]
Confused consumers, F.D.A. scrutiny are challenges
Food and beverage manufacturers should know both opportunity and risk exist when making claims on the front of packages, according to speakers at Wellness 10 presented by the Institute of Food Technologists March 24-25 in Chicago. Some claims may draw unwanted attention from a more active Food and Drug Administration while too many claims may clutter the front of a package and confuse consumers.
Tony Pavel, a partner with K&L Gates L.P., spoke about a more active F.D.A. in his March 25 presentation.
“You’ve got a lawyer in the morning, and a lawyer with bad news,” he told the audience. “Sorry.”
Mr. Pavel said the warning letters recently sent to 17 companies about claims on the front of packages show how the F.D.A. is taking a harder line into claims. The F.D.A. has wide latitude in accusing companies of misbranding, Mr. Pavel said.
The warning letters covered such issues as nutrient content claims on food for infants, trans-fat claims for products actually high in saturated fats, food products claiming to treat or mitigate diseases, and juice products with multiple ingredients being labeled as single juice products. In the letters the F.D.A. expressed concern that label claims are not doing enough to help consumers distinguish healthy food choices from less healthy choices.
“Balance is a key issue that the agency is going after,” Mr. Pavel said.
He said he found a ray of hope in a warning letter sent to Nestle U.S.A. about the company’s Juicy Juice Brain Development fruit juice beverage. The F.D.A. warned that a nutrient content claim may not be made for a food intended for use by infants and children less than 2 years of age.
Mr. Pavel said the F.D.A. said nothing about the company using Brain Development in the product’s name, which he considered a structure/function claim. The F.D.A. thus did not go after a structure/function claim.
“Companies may have a little bit of breathing room,” he said.
Mr. Pavel said industry may expect more F.D.A. enforcement in the future since Margaret A. Hamburg, the new F.D.A. commissioner, has a public health background, as does Joshua M. Sharfstein, the new F.D.A. principal deputy commissioner.
“There is a new sheriff in town,” Mr. Pavel said.
Whether or not it attracts F.D.A. attention, too much information on the front of a package may fail to catch consumers’ attention, said Mark Payne, president and head of innovation for the consulting company Fahrenheit 212.
“It’s a cluttered world and a cluttered supermarket,” he said.
Mr. Payne said while an industry premise says educating consumers is the right thing to do, the population has become more obese in recent years even with the increasing amount of education in front-of-package labeling.
“There is an excess of information out there today,” he said. “Education is an important piece of the answer, but at the end of the day it is the simple concepts. The simple concepts always win.”
He said presenting how a product is made in a different, new way may be a simple concept. Successful examples, he said, were Dreyer’s/Edy’s slow-churned ice cream, Baked! Lay’s chips and Kentucky Grilled Chicken.
Mr. Payne said consumers may be divided into “white belts” and “black belts.” While “black belts” may be more informed, “white belts” may not read the fine print on a product.
“How you make life easier for the ‘white belts’ has got to be the next big frontier,” he said.
By Jeff Gelski
Food Business News