April 2, 2014

Obama Administration Food Label Changes 101

Obama Administration Food Label Changes 101

The nutritional label is being slightly revamped to highlight calories and sugar content, as well as reflect accurate portion sizes. The new nutritional labels will maintain the basic format of the old, but the calorie listing will be HUGE. There will also be a new component: added sugars, which will indicate the sugar content that was artificially added by the manufacturer. The new changes are meant to address obesity, and make the American consumer more acutely aware of how much he or she is actually eating. Of course, the original nutritional labels were made mandatory 20 years ago for that exact purpose, and as a result all of us Americans immediately took stock of how and what we were consuming, and slimmed down accordingly.

Sarcasm aside, we couldn’t have gotten fatter faster if we had inflated ourselves with bicycle pumps filled with Crisco. The original food labels did exactly nothing to curb our eating habits, just as these new ones will likely do nothing once again. Nevertheless, food manufacturers will have to reconfigure their marketing strategies to address what potential problems could arise.

Proposed new nutrition labels.

Proposed new nutrition labels.

Calories, Calories!

The new food label design will not alter the calorie content per package, but the calories listed per serving will not only be far bolder, they could also appear higher, since the serving size will reflect the portions most consumers will likely eat. So, a pint of Haagen Daaz probably won’t be four servings at 270 calories per, but two servings at 540 calories, and the 540 calories will be in visually striking, inescapable, bold lettering. Emotional eating is about to reach a whole new level of depressing.

There isn’t much that really can be done from a marketing standpoint to juke the calorie count, except either modify the ingredients or reduce the amount of product. Of course, if something calorie dense can be reimagined as a condiment or an ingredient rather than a dessert (and if the FDA buys it), the number of calories might go down significantly. Sneaky, right?

Those Added Sugars

The added sugars might strike the public as a nefarious engineering ploy on the part of processed food manufacturers, but if those sugars are natural cane/honey/agave rather than high fructose corn syrup, there might be a ray of light at the end of the health tunnel, from a marketing perspective.

In the high fructose corn syrup vs sugar wars, sugar has a slight edge, since the obesity epidemic appears to have begun at around the time high fructose corn syrup came into common use for sweetened beverages and snacks, and some university studies have found that the additional fructose could possibly trigger weight gain in measures greater than glucose. However, if it’s studies you want, you can find them arguing both sides.

Since “added sugars” can come from any sweetener — molasses, maple syrup, cane juice and fruit nectar to name a few — it is possible to calm the public’s fears about additional sugars by explicitly stating whether those sugars come from non-high fructose corn syrup sources or more cuddly ones.

Serving Sizes

So, if the previously recognized FDA serving size was a tablespoon, but people typically eat as much as a half cup, the number of listed calories per serving is going to skyrocket. One answer to this potential problem is the utilization of smaller sized serving packages. The number of calories and serving sizes will be etched in stone, and the product manufacturer will have a number of lovely opportunities to extoll the virtues of single-serve packaging; from environmental responsibility and convenience to freshness. Doing the public a favor, really.

Marketing strategies are always being retooled based upon public sentiment, medical studies and the latest diet trends. The only difference is that the nutritional label will necessitate fairly uniform food label design modifications for a large number of products and brands. While many products won’t really be affected by the change, enough processed foods will have to be rethought. But panic need not reign; consumers will continue to find it in their hearts to overlook the new food label designs, just as they largely did cigarette warning labels.


by Kevin Smith
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