Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: In No Uncertain Terms

Magazine article Marketing

News Analysis: In No Uncertain Terms

Article excerpt

Strict EU legislation is set to severely restrict the claims food marketers can make on-pack. Claire Murphy reports.

Food marketers are being squeezed on all sides. Under incessant pressure from the government and consumers to produce healthier foods to aid the battle against obesity, many marketers have already overhauled products by cutting salt and sugar levels and labelling them accordingly.

However, the introduction of EU rules on food labelling, passed last week by the European parliament and expected to come into force by September, will ban many of the health and nutrition claims that marketers have been adding so enthusiastically to packs.

There are two key aspects to the legislation: the phrasing used for nutritional claims, such as 'low-fat' or 'high-fibre', and the burgeoning issue of the type of claims made about a product's effect on a consumer's health.

In relation to the first, a list of 24 acceptable claims has been drawn up, with strict definitions attached to each (see box). Terms not included on the list, such as those based on a glycemic index (GI), a method used by both Tesco and Sainsbury's, will not be allowed, although the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) is tabling an amendment to move GI onto the 'acceptable' list.

Controversial assessment

Manufacturers will have a two-year period of grace to phase out any claims that fall foul of these rules. But there is a further sting in the tail: products will have to be assessed using the controversial nutrient profiling (NP) system to decide whether they can make any of the permitted claims at all. This could mean, for example, that a product deemed to contain high sugar and salt levels would be unable to claim to be low in fat, even if it contained less than 3%.

This element of the regulations has been the subject of heavy lobbying by manufacturers, under the auspices of the FDF. It is unhappy that NP will effectively create 'good' and 'bad' food products, and its lobbying comes at a time when Ofcom is deciding how to apply an NP system to inform restrictions on TV ads promoting food to kids.

The manufacturers have won one significant concession: if a product is high in only one nutrient, it will be able to flag up that it is low in another.

Nonetheless, the FDF remains uncomfortable about the prospect of NP being applied across Europe, even in a watered-down form. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has been tasked with creating the scheme within two years, but it is understood that the only work to have been done on the issue in Europe so far is the development of a points-based system for measuring fat, sugar and salt, set up by the UK's Food Standards Agency (FSA). This has been rubbished by much of the industry as 'arbitrary'.

Some leading European food scientists do not believe it is even necessary to measure sugar or salt levels as part an NP system, according to FDF food composition manager Lynn Insall.

With regard to the other half of the new legislation, two health-related claims will be banned outright: those referring to rates or amounts of weight loss, and recommendations by doctors.

The first would appear to outlaw the type of promotional claims regularly made by Kellogg that eating two bowls of Special K a day in place of two meals for two weeks can result in consumers dropping a jeans size. …

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