Manufacturers must now ensure packs provide details on energy value; amount of fat; saturates; carbohydrate; sugars; protein, salt; and supplementary information, such as mono-unsaturates, polyunsaturates, polyols, starch, fiber, certain vitamins and minerals.
Two directives into one
The Regulation EU No 1169/2011 began in December 2014 and will apply from December 13, 2016, combining two directives into one legislation: 2000/13/EC - labeling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs - and 90/496/EEC - nutrition labeling for foodstuffs.
Both FoodDrinkEurope, the organization of Europe’s food and drink industry, and the European Snacks Association (ESA) welcome the labeling rules.
“Following the application of the general labeling rules two years ago, the new rules represent a further step to provide consumers with factual and comparable information about the nutritional content of products,” a FoodDrinkEurope spokesman said in a statement.
“This comprehensive nutritional information will empower consumers to compare products and make food choices that better fit their individual dietary needs. Many European food and drink companies have already started to implement the new rules on a voluntary basis over the past years.”
The organization added that, beyond this legal requirement, many manufacturers and suppliers have chosen to provide information about nutrients and calories per portion on the front-of-pack of their products, via “Reference Intake” icons introduced by the industry in 2005.
“Europe’s food and drink sector has been working hard over the past years to get ready for the implementation of the new rules in due time, and remains committed to providing clear, accurate and valuable food information to consumers to enable them to make informed choices about their foods,” he added.
“FoodDrinkEurope and its members are constantly reflecting on further ways to provide consumer-friendly nutrition information, including via digital communication means.”
However, according to Edwin Hackleman of the US Food and Drug Administration (‘Food Label Information: What Consumers Say They Want and What They Need’), consumers as a whole know very little about food and nutrition and are incapable of properly evaluating nutritional information on food labels.
“Some of the 'standard' information appearing on nutrition labels is judged to be of little or no use by the majority of consumers. What is desired, therefore, is a finer tuned, more relevant list of nutrients and not merely a more exhaustive list contributing mass to the information load,” he said.
“Their lack of knowledge appears overshadowed by the desire to learn more. The learning interests focus heavily on the effect of food intake on health and disease problems - the things that generate news headlines.”
European Food Information Council
The EUFIC (European Food Information Council) agrees. When it conducted a study with Professor Klaus Grunert from Aarhus University, Denmark, it found that, on average, European consumers spent about 35 seconds handling individual products.
“Nutrition labeling is a means to inform consumers about the nutritional value of foods and ideally should help them make healthier food choices when doing their shopping,” said Grunert.
It conducted over 11,600 instore interviews across six European countries (UK, France, Germany, Hungary, Sweden and Poland) that found consumers seem to understand some nutrients better than others. Whereas the majority of respondents knew they should decrease their intakes of saturated fat, trans fat and total fat and eat more omega-3, they did not realize that higher intakes of polyunsaturated fatty acids are also recommended.
Most UK consumers considered that the interpretive elements (color-coding or high/medium/low) were the most helpful for indicating the healthiness of a product.
“The major reason for choosing a product was taste, rather than nutrition and health. However, people were most likely to look for nutrition information on yogurts and breakfast cereals, which already benefit from a healthy image,” he added.
FIC sets out a specific presentation format for the nutrition declaration:
- Improved legibility of information (minimum font size for mandatory information)
- Clearer and harmonized presentation of allergens (e.g. soy, nuts, gluten, lactose) for prepacked foods (emphasis by font, style or background colour) in the list of ingredients
- Mandatory allergen information for non-prepacked food, including in restaurants and cafes
- Requirement of certain nutrition information for majority of prepacked processed foods
- Mandatory origin information for fresh meat from pigs, sheep, goats and poultry
- Same labeling requirements for online, distance-selling or buying in a shop
- List of engineered nanomaterials in the ingredients
- Specific information on the vegetable origin of refined oils and fats
- Strengthened rules to prevent misleading practices
- Indication of substitute ingredient for 'Imitation' foods
- Clear indication of "formed meat" or "formed fish"
- Clear indication of defrosted products.
The regulation officially takes effect today, however some foods are exempt from the rule, including the manufacture of small quantities of food that are supplied directly by the manufacturers to consumers, or the local retailers for direct supply to the consumer.
The regulation applies to all food products sold in the EU, meaning every company selling on the EU market must comply, even if the company itself is based outside of the European Union.