BrainTrust Query: Do ingredient and nutritional labeling requirements hurt consumers?

Discussion
Oct 04, 2007

By Bill Bittner, President, BWH Consulting

Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal featured an article on the new tomato Heinz is developing. Basically, Heinz is trying to insulate themselves from the price hikes being caused by the hunt for renewable fuel sources. This new tomato has a “natural” sweetness that reduces the need for corn syrup in their tomato products.

This got me to thinking about the effect of ingredient changes on package labeling. I know this was the initial concern when ingredient labeling requirements were first announced. Manufacturers were worried that the traditional variation in ingredients that were used to cope with raw ingredient price changes would no longer be possible. I don’t know how we have survived to this point, but it seems the wide swings in commodity prices that have been initiated by the renewable fuel craze make it more necessary to provide manufacturing flexibility.

It only stands to reason that the cost of packaging changes is a hindrance to changing product formulas. This cost creates a hurdle that must be exceeded by the savings on ingredients.

But what if the ingredient and nutritional information were separated from the packaging? Instead of printing the information on the package, there would merely be a lot number or reference code that, combined with the UPC or GTIN, would enable the consumer to access all the information they needed from a website or an in-store digital display.

Eventually the ID would be provided by the RFID license number, but in the meantime a printed lot number would enable manufacturers to react more quickly to ingredient cost changes. Manufacturers would be freer to produce their products using the most economic formula for the current market conditions and use the lot number to indicate which formula the package contains.

Discussion Questions: Do the current requirements for printing ingredient and nutritional labeling restrict manufacturers to the detriment of product quality and pricing? Is there an alternative to current packaging requirements that could offer manufacturers more flexibility?

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8 Comments on "BrainTrust Query: Do ingredient and nutritional labeling requirements hurt consumers?"


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Ryan Mathews
Guest
14 years 7 months ago
One assumes the current regs stipulate that nutritional information has to be on each and every individual package, so in order to make a change, at a minimum you’d be looking at going through the whole labeling regulatory arguments all over again. That said, you’d have to convince the regulators that “inference” works. Used here, inference means that labels attached to case lots or pallets do in fact accurately describe items sold in less than case lot or pallet quantities. The inference argument hasn’t proved popular with regulators in the past and breaks down completely in the case of items like deli, etc, where there may be significant differences between batch to batch. All the industry would need is one deli inspector testing one batch of salad that for some reason had a variation in nutritional content from the label (like the clerk got creative with the recipe or “eyeballed” ingredients and the whole system could come crashing down. One could argue (correctly) that the same thing could happen today and that’s true. But, in… Read more »
David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Ingredient and nutritional labeling requirements are helping consumers and should not be hurting good manufacturers in ANY way.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
14 years 7 months ago
Labeling requirements should be increased and improved, not weakened. I’m as pro business as anyone but we need to increase the ability of consumers to be able to make informed choices at the point of decision in the store, not at home after they have purchased something. Most ingredient changes that manufacturers want to make “on the fly” are not in our best interests. Put me down as one who is willing to pay any additional costs for the most accurate labeling possible. I also want to know where it is made, what country and by whom. As a side note, a bakery manufacturer used to be torn about windows on products that would allow the consumer to actually see the product. The production people didn’t want it because it didn’t give them enough flexibility. Translated that meant that if the bread was a little too dark and dried out you couldn’t see it and they could get by with it. Having a window caused them to have more waste as they had to destroy… Read more »
Al McClain
Guest
Al McClain
14 years 7 months ago

I think Bill’s idea is good in theory from an efficiency standpoint. But, not all consumers have or want access to the internet. And with the plethora of food allergy and liability issues, we better stick with an inefficient system.

Frederick Chang
Guest
Frederick Chang
14 years 7 months ago

I think there’s definitely some merit to the idea of having more dynamic packaging to accommodate ingredient lists that change rapidly. However, I think the key to keep in mind is that some consumers depend heavily on the ingredient lists for food allergies or sensitivities. Keeping the packaging the same while changing the ingredients, or putting an extra step between the consumer and the ingredient lists may be a high risk for manufacturers and consumers alike.

Additionally, I believe that the technology for in-store nutritional displays hasn’t reached the level where it can easily replace ingredient lists/nutrition fact labels. I think there are two requirements: 1) The device for reading the ingredient list must be available at the fingertips of the consumer at nearly all times; 2) the device must integrate all changes that manufacturers make, and all manufacturers must sign on to the process. It might be a few more years before RFID technology (and visual display technology) will reach that level.

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Bill Bittner’s food ingredient labeling suggestions aren’t mutually exclusive. Nothing stops food manufacturers from having expanded ingredient information on their web sites, including explanations of why each ingredient is important and how it is sourced. In theory, shoppers could go to a web site, and enter the UPC themselves, causing a display of the expanded information. These screens could be available in every supermarket. They could even be attached to small printers creating coupons, serving suggestions, and other promotional material.

Rick Moss
Guest
14 years 7 months ago

Mark’s point is a good one; the web could extend capabilities in numerous ways. Some day, manufacturers…especially those with huge brand portfolios…could have all their ingredients cross-indexed so people with health conditions or particular tastes could easily decide which items to buy. Wouldn’t it be great to go to the website and do a search for ingredients one is allergic to or sort by trans fat content or fiber content? Seems like it would be worthwhile.

Odonna Mathews
Guest
Odonna Mathews
14 years 6 months ago

I see a lot of consumer problems and frustrations associated with Bill’s idea of separating nutrition and ingredient information from the packaging. This basic information is important to have at point of purchase for all types of consumers-those who just want to know and those who need to know for some health or allergy issue. Having this information available on a website is not the same as having it at point of purchase or on the package, to be read at home at a later time. A reference code doesn’t do it.

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