As contract food technologists, we work with an extensive range of food labels. Unfortunately, most jobs involve fixing up client’s simple mistakes which end up being costly. On the surface these mistakes look basic but are often more complex.
Food labelling is usually very complicated. The Food Standards Code is the main set of rules for labelling, but other laws that can come into play like the Fair-Trading Act and Weights and Measures Regulations.
Mistake Number 1 – Copy a product that is already on the market
This seems like a simple and cheap approach and does work for some products and in some situations. The problem though is that the devil is in the detail. For instance, you see a jar of honey on the shelf which has an address on it, so you put your PO Box details onto the label… But PO Box details aren’t allowed.
Also, the existing product may have errors and you could copy those errors.
Every food product is unique, and special consideration is required for each product.
Mistake Number 2 – Health and Nutrition Claims
A common mistake made by people who are new to the food industry is to base their entire business case around a health or nutrition claim that cannot be made legally. Most often, the intended health claim is a crucial part of the business model, so it’s worth finding out early on whether you can legally make this claim to save time, effort and money down the track.
Several parts of the Food Standards Code deal with Health and Nutrition Claims. To be blunt, if you want to make some claims e.g. high in protein, you might be able to, but you will need professional advice.
Another pitfall of copying another product is that other jurisdictions have different rules for health claims. The Americans can get away with a lot and often you will find situations where you cannot make a claim, but American products are getting away with it and achieving a commercial advantage as a result.
Mistake Number 3 – Stuffing up the Barcode
You’ve probably seen thousands of barcodes in your lifetime and never thought much about them. When faced with an ongoing cost of about $500 per year to own some barcodes, you might change your mind. If you have no intentions of selling products in the supermarkets or service stations, there is less to worry about. It can’t be stressed enough how difficult it is to get barcodes right for selling into supermarkets. If the dimensions are only slightly out, then your product will be rejected, it’s that simple. In our experience, even excellent and experienced designers don’t have a suitable level of knowledge for designing compliant barcodes and most software packages aren’t good enough.
Mistake Number 4 – Messing up the allergen statement
Allergen management is not simple. Making mistakes on an allergen statements can put your customers health in jeopardy. There was a recent incident where a batch of buckwheat flour entered NZ and numerous companies unwittingly used it in gluten free products. The problem is, it had gluten in it, probably due to cross contamination. This resulted in about 30 companies having to recall their products – an NZ record. Your label will communicate safety information to consumers, so it is important to get it right.
Mistake Number 5 – Being too relaxed
In the past, there has been little enforcement on food labelling. Many businesses who have been trading for a while have the tendency to be a little too relaxed on their interpretation of the laws, and the consequences of breaking them. Previously, unless a complaint was made about the product, you were probably ok. There were some checks in place in the supermarkets for some products, but that was about it.
…But things have changed. Verifiers now must check labels as part of their verification visits to food businesses. Now MPI and territorial authorities (councils) can issue instant fines (which are quite substantial!). They haven’t started issuing these fines at the time of writing, but we have been told by MPI it will change in the next year or two.
Food labelling work
If you are starting a food business or are already in business, then give us a call on 0800 475 463 to see if we can help you with your labelling, or anything else. We strive to keep pricing down and expertise high. We also maintain high levels of professional indemnity insurance, a must for any professional advising on food labelling.