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Less is More When it comes to Front-of-Pack (FoP) Nutrition Labelling

Posted on August 21 2013 | Author: Jessica Taylor

With an abundance of food products on the market, trying to select the healthiest options can be overwhelming even for the most health conscious of consumers. As the market becomes more saturated and the trend toward healthy eating continues, food manufacturers are feeling pressure to make their products stand out on the crowded supermarket shelves, but how is this accomplished? Front of Pack (FoP) nutrition labelling has been a hot topic recently as researchers, industry and policy makers alike look to determine the most appropriate and effective design of food labels.

FoP labelling was introduced in the late 1980, first with American Heart Association’s Heart Guide in 1987, followed by the Swedish National Food Administration’s Green Keyhole in 1989. Unlike back of pack labelling, FoP has remained voluntary; however, as industry organizations, retailers, government agencies and not-for-profits continually introduce new FoP symbols there has been a push for a standardized symbol both within in countries and internationally.

Currently each symbol is subject to its own criteria as defined by its creator. However, research has demonstrated that consumers wrongly assume consistency between labels and make inappropriate comparisons between products.

So is a standardized FoP the way to go? And, if so, what should this standardized label look like?

It has become evident that information clutter and density on a label may play a significant role in the information consumers are able to gather from a food label. A recent study examining the effects of information clutter on consumer attention to FoP nutrition labelling found that as the number of design elements increased attention to the label decreases.1 Similarly attention to the label also decreased when the FoP symbol was in an information dense area versus a non-dense area. Interestingly the study also found that clutter was detrimental in single symbol FoP labels but not those that were combined– for example, included both Guideline Daily Amounts and a health logo.  Although numerous studies have been conducted no single FoP has been consistently seen as the most effective. However, these results indicate that the fewer design elements on the label, the more nutrition information the consumer will gather.

Where do we go from here?

While these results are interesting, food processors and policy makers need to understand how to best apply this knowledge. From the prospective of food processors, for example, nutritional information may not be their main concern. They may want to also emphasize, or at least include, information about the taste, origin and/or convenience of their product. Policy makers, however, are primarily focused on improving the food choices of the consumer.

Earlier this summer the UK introduced a standardized FoP nutrition label, which is still voluntary, but now covers approximately 60% of products sold within these countries. The process by which this came into effect was lengthy as both industry leaders and government agencies had to agree upon the most appropriate and effective label. The final FoP nutrition label is a combination of colour-coding and nutritional information including fat, sugar, salt and number of calories.

The United States has also discussed a standardized system but there are currently no federal regulations in place. However, the FDA has reviewed a program, Facts Up Front, which many US food processors incorporated into their labels. As shown here it is very similar to the UK standardized label, but does include the colour-coding system.

Canada has yet to adopt a standardized symbol and the question remains - what should Canadian food processors do?

As with most labelling issues it is recommended that food processors contact a regulatory consultant prior to, and during the creation of, their label to ensure it is compliant and grabs the attention of the consumers. Health Canada also offers a voluntary pre-market label approval program allowing processors to confidently put their product to market. If a company is looking to export their product to the UK, the US or any other area of the world it would be important to consider the country’s stance on FoP. Creating an effective product label can be challenging so make sure to connect with a regulatory consultant or a business analyst here at Bioenterprise if you have any questions.  

Jessica Taylor
Junior Business Analyst, Food Nutrition & Health

Image Credits:

Department of Health – United Kingdom

Grocery Manufacturers Association – Facts Up Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling Initiative

World Health Organization. What is Front-of-Pack Workshop. May 11, 2013


1 Bialkova, S., Klaus, G. G., van Trijp, H. (2013). Standing out in the crowd: The effect of information clutter on consumer attention for front-of-pack nutrition labels. Food Policy, 41: 65 - 74.

BBC. Food labelling: Consistent system to be rolled out. June 18, 2013

Food Navigator – Label clutter means consumers don’t pay attention to nutrition information say researchers

Grocery Manufacturers Association – Facts Up Front-of-Pack Nutrition Labelling Initiative

nufoods international – Front-of-Package Rating Systems – A Review

World Health Organization. What is Front-of-Pack Workshop. May 11, 2013

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What does “all-natural” mean?

Posted on August 09 2013 | Author: Jessica Bowes

Marketing experts and manufacturers alike understand that consumers are increasingly looking for foods that are “natural”, but few can really articulate what that means.

Naturally ambiguous

Unfortunately, regulators and manufacturers around the world are in the same confused state. There are no universal standards in place to guide the use of the term “natural”. Many jurisdictions don’t even have a definition to go by. Here are a few examples of how different the criteria, or lack thereof, can be.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) believes that no food could ever be natural and has yet to define the term. However, the FDA does not object to a claim appearing if a food does not contain added colour, artificial flavours, or synthetic substances.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) states that most foods labeled as “natural” are not subject to government controls beyond the regulations and health codes that apply to all foods, but has a very limited definition that applies only to meat and poultry stating that “those products carrying the “natural” claim must not contain artificial flavouring, colour ingredients, chemical preservatives, or artificial/synthetic ingredients, and are only minimally processed.”

In the European Union, “natural” is only clearly defined in EU regulations related to flavourings. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) states that where a food naturally meets the conditions laid down by the Nutrition Claims Annex for use of a nutritional claim (e.g. low energy, low fat, high fibre), the term “naturally/natural” may only be used as a prefix to the claim.

The United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency has published criteria for several terms in food labeling, but the guidance restricts the use of “natural” to foods that have “ingredients produced in nature”. Separate laws define natural flavourings. To make it even more confusing, there are different standards for various types of food, such as dairy products, and different types of food processing techniques, such as fermentation and pasteurization.

Canadian criteria

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has some of the best standards in the world, including a definition of “natural” for labeling purposes. CFIA’s Guide to Food Labeling and Advertising states that ads should not convey the impression that Nature has created foods that are nutritionally superior to others or has engineered some foods specifically to take care of human needs. Foods or ingredients of foods that have been processed to alter their original physical, chemical or biological state should not be described as “natural,” including changes such as the removal of a constituent, and/or addition of micronutrients, flavourings or additives.

Since some food additives, vitamins and mineral nutrients are derived from natural sources, and they can be regarded as natural ingredients. In this case, the acceptable claim would be that the food “contains natural ingredients”. The food isn’t “natural” though, because it contains added components.

Carol Culhane, President of International Food Focus Ltd, has found that the CFIA criteria to assess the naturalness of a food ingredient is the best in the world and that “manufacturers who operate in many countries around the world have applied it to their products with the rationale that it is, at least, an objective, science-based criteria.”

Clear as mud

“All-natural” and “natural” are widely used terms in food labeling and marketing with a variety of definitions, which are mostly vague. The term implies that foods are minimally processed and do not contain manufactured ingredients, but the lack of standards in many jurisdictions suggests it is actually a loaded term with little meaning globally. In most countries, it is the manufacturer’s responsibility to not mislead the consumer, so as long as standard regulations and Good Manufacturing Processes (GMPs) are followed, and the company is claiming something that is true, they can make the claim if desired.

The term “organic” has similar implications to “natural”, yet has an established legal definition in many countries and is internationally standardized. A good example of this difference refers to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Codex Alimentarius, which does not recognize the term natural, yet has organic food standards.

Until there is a universal definition of “all-natural” there will be confusion in the marketplace for both manufacturers and consumers. In the meantime, if you are a food manufacturer looking for clarification on marketing a product in such a way, it is best to consult with a professional regulatory consultant, an officer from CFIA, a food lawyer or one of the business analysts here at Bioenterprise.

Jessica Bowes
Senior Business Analyst, Food Nutrition & Health

Image credit: Three Dog Bakery


US Food & Drug Administration – Food Labeling Guide

US Department of Health & Human Services - Consumer Updates – Food Label Helps Consumers Make Healthier Choices

European Commission - EUROPA – Food Safety – Labelling & Nutrition – Health & Nutrition Claims

Canadian Food Inspection Agency – Chapter 4 – Composition, Quality, Quantity and Origin Claims

The Food Journal - Natural?

Food Navigator – Elaine Watson – Are all-natural claims losing their luster?

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