New regulations aim to crack down on misleading marketing.

Clean Label Trend Could Spell Trouble for Incautious Marketers

posted by Madelaine Caudron | 13.11.2016

Mandatory packaging regulations aim to eliminate misleading terminology.

December 13th see a number of FIC Regulations become mandatory, meaning food and drinks manufacturers will need to review the accuracy and clarity of their packaging information in order to remain compliant. This comes in the wake of increasing consumer uncertainty over clean label trends and the definition of common packaging vernacular such as "healthy", "natural", and "simple".

As consumers become rapidly more aware and concerned about what is in their food, many manufacturers have had to adapt not only their packaging, but the products themselves, removing ‘undesirable’ ingredients, and replacing them with alternatives that consumers recognise and trust.

Clean-Labelling vs. Healthwashing

This process, often termed ‘clean-labelling’, means using more widely recognised ingredients, and cutting out artificial colours and flavours. However, the danger of this practice is that ingredients are not necessarily being exchanged for healthier or less harmful alternatives, yet the packaging is designed to falsely suggest healthy, wholesome, or nutritious products.

Unfortunately, identifying this so-called “healthwashing” is not always straightforward, and has occasionally resulted in consumers feeling misled, or “tricked” by the wording used on food and drinks packaging. On top of that, dishonest marketing has made some consumers more suspicious of clean label products, even when they are entirely above board, and honest about their nutritional value.

Plans To Standardise Food Labelling

As such, many countries have begun to crack down on these marketing practices, and encourage manufacturers to use discretion when making claims about the nutritional benefits of their products. In Europe, changes to the Food Information to Consumers Regulations (FIC) are due to mandate the provision of specific nutritional information, formatted according to strict guidelines, on almost all pre-packaged foods.

This aims not only to standardise the labelling process, making it more transparent for the consumer, but also to discourage the use of deliberately misleading or confusing information to misrepresent the products described.

At The Mercy of Semantics

Examples of this potentially misleading marketing can include something as simple as labelling a product “healthy” or “natural”. This is because these descriptions can be broadly interpreted, which can lead to legal repercussions, if a consumer feels that their well-being has been harmed as a result of this variance in understanding.

In one such instance, Ferrero ran into trouble over marketing its popular chocolate spread, Nutella, as a breakfast food. While its claims of “simple, quality ingredients” were not specifically untrue, the brand was accused of misrepresenting the product as being healthy and wholesome, despite its high processed sugar and saturated fat content. This culminated in two class-action lawsuits which Ferrero settled for around $3 million.

Not Too Late To Change

The potential consequences of falling foul of this legislation can be a severe blow even to larger firms. For smaller businesses, and startups which are still finding their feet, a legal battle could be devastating. The cost alone could be enough to cause a company to fold. In addition, the negative publicity generated by such cases can be extremely damaging to the future of a brand.

With this in mind, producers and manufacturers of food and drinks products are encouraged to thoroughly review the FIC Regulations, and take steps to ensure their packaging is fully compliant before the changes become mandatory on December 13th.

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