The two-year proposed window for manufacturers to change nutrition labeling is not enough, snack makers need four to six years, says the CEO of the Snack Food Association (SFA).
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) filed its proposal for a back-of-pack Nutrition Facts panel change at the end of February, this year , that will see bigger emphasis on total calories, updates on serving size and draw attention to added sugars, among other things. But last week, it extended the comment period by 60 days to August 1 – an extension welcomed by the SFA as it would enable more industry data to be filed ahead of a final ruling.
Speaking to BakeryandSnacks.com about the proposal, CEO of the association Tom Dempsey said the entire program would be far more costly and timely than the FDA had estimated.
“Based on quantifiable data that we’ve been able to get from our members considering the number of SKUs they would have to change, the lead-time on changing those and the cost implications are significantly greater than what we’ve been given by the government,” he said.
Two years is “clearly not enough” for snack makers to implement the new panels on products, he said. “Our members are pretty consistent in saying it will take anywhere from four to six years to be able to go from re-doing the facts panel on all their SKUs to products being on the grocery shelves. And that’s if they haven’t underestimated.”
Bottleneck concerns can be raised in extended comment period
Dempsey said that should all snack makers need to overhaul nutritional labeling in such a short time period, there would be serious production problems.
“There are ‘X’ number of film companies out there, so if all of us go to a dozen or half a dozen film convertors and they’re all besieged with plate changes and new film requirements at the same time, I don’t think there’s any way humanly possible that it’s going to be simple. They’re going to reach a bottleneck, in which case the small guy will be the last in line to get his packaging,” he said.
The SFA was pleased with the extension on the FDA’s comment period, he said, as it would enable them to collate more quantifiable data from manufacturers on how long the changes would truly take.
“We want more quantifiable data so we’re not just going in on emotion or supposition. We’ve done that already – we’ve probably got seven of our biggest members who’ve already sent quantifiable data after they’ve reviewed their SKUS.” Information on how many SKUs, the time label changes would take and then the time from these changes to shelf has all been submitted and collated with a third party, he explained.
“We want as much as we possibly can. Some of our smaller members don’t have the manpower or staffing to be able to dig into the numbers that well, but our larger members do and they’re giving us that information – obviously all proprietary,” Dempsey said.
Who cares about nutrition facts?
Asked if the snack sector believed the updated nutrition facts panel would have any impact on consumer health, he said: “The government obviously thinks it will… Just as the first one was supposed to help, and I think that’s debatable as to whether that really helped. This one is hopefully helpful for people who want that information – it will make it easier for them to get it.”
However, he said that these ‘label readers’ were not regular snackers, with demographics suggesting it was “light users” who were normally prone to reading labels.
Despite this, Dempsey said industry would have its “head in the sand” if they didn’t realize that consumers would become increasingly health-conscious about what they ate. “That’s going to happen, so we might as well assist them as they look at our category.”
As the SFA continued to work on filing data from snack makers, Dempsey’s message was to try and continue business as usual. “A lot of us have tried to anticipate what the rulings have been in the past, and we’ve got burned on them. So, you may as well sit back and do your business. You know it’s coming down the line and there’s nothing you can do until the final ruling,” he said.