The FDA has set July 2018 as the deadline for food manufacturers and brands to be in compliance with new nutrition labeling requirements. For companies with large product portfolios, the requirements can affect thousands of different labels. Typically, the task will necessitate close communication between food companies and their packaging suppliers, and require signoffs at every level of the company’s approval process. More on that later.
The FDA label changes reflect updated information about nutrition science. Briefly, they include increasing the type size of calories and servings per container, boldfacing the number of calories and indicating the actual amount – in addition to the percentage of daily nutrition value – of vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium.
To meet the requirements, manufacturers and brands will need to redesign their present labels to accommodate the additional nutritional information. If this is done without imagination, it may result in a package that, to the consumer, looks like an endless stream of fine print and dull detail.
To forward thinking brands, however, the mandate can be seen as a boon rather than a burden. By creatively integrating the label into the design and updating the overall package via new materials, constructs and printing technology, food producers can bring to market a package that meets the FDA requirements and simultaneously improves shelf appeal and customer convenience.
Answering three basic questions can help assess the potential value of overhauling your product packaging via changes in formats, features and printing methods:
- In what ways could your product packaging better serve the needs of your customers?
- Are you aware of the full palette of new packaging solutions? For example, a square bag flexible packaging solution incorporates advanced packaging films with a variety of closures and handles to support diverse food packaging applications.
- Is your packaging designed for maximum shelf impact and ease of use?
Getting back to those needs for packaging expertise and meeting internal approvals, look to your packaging supplier to act as consultant with advice regarding the actual FDA requirements, as well as design, printing, configuration and specialty options. Ideally, your supplier will be fully knowledgeable about the new FDA nutrition label rules and current with the industry’s most recent equipment and capabilities. A savvy supplier can help you smoothly navigate your new design through your company’s approval process.
Improving Packaging Materials
One potential upgrade for food currently packaged with rigid materials, such as hard plastic or paperboard, would be to switch to flexible materials. This would be in line with a cross-industry trend that is already well underway and should be readily doable in conjunction with a brand’s nutritional label addition.
According to a 2016 Flexible Packaging Association report, the Flexible Packaging Transition Advantages Study, most brand owners in several product categories are already using a mix of rigid and flexible packaging materials.
What’s more, a survey of 200 packaging professionals in various industries that was published in the same report indicated a strong preference for flexible packaging. The preference’s key drivers are the ability to meet consumer needs and operational benefits, such as shipping and transportation efficiencies, and production cost reductions. About 31 percent of respondents predicted that they will opt for a higher mix of flexible packaging over the next five years. Brand owners who have begun using more flexible packaging reported strong business results including sales increases.
The FPA report also cited a survey of over 2,000 U.S. consumers. About 79 percent of respondents said there are benefits to having food stored in flexible packaging compared with non-flexible packaging. The benefits identified include resealability, convenient storage and easy-open features. Respondents indicated a willingness to pay for the perceived advantages: About 46 percent said they are willing to pay more for food products stored in flexible packaging.
High-Quality Printing Options
Food companies engaged in compliance efforts should also consider advanced package printing options such as high-definition flexography. High-def flexo offers an appealing, cost-effective alternative to other printing methods in many applications. Modern flexography benefits include improved presses, anilox rollers, plate materials and dot designs. The method produces crisp, highly legible label type and photo quality.
Recent years have seen a proliferation of food products and SKUs, which often results in needs for shorter runs. High-def flexo is well suited to support these. The combination of a printing technology that offers high print quality and accommodates frequent changeovers addresses a variety of specific packaging needs.
With this in mind, and with FDA nutritional label requirements pending, now may be a good time to take a broad view of your food products’ packaging. The new rules offer an opportunity to make executive decisions that will satisfy compliance, plus improve shelf appeal, meet consumer preferences for convenience and achieve an overall upgrade to your product packaging.
Mondi in North America
(770) 243-5420; www.mondigroup.com
Premium Trends Impact Pet Food Packaging
While pet food packaging falls outside FDA jurisdiction, recent trends in the sector are having a big impact. Once considered a commodity, pet food has gone premium. The cost of pet food products has risen over the last decade, as have the expectations of pet owners. There is a greater emphasis today on the nutritional value and quality of pet food ingredients. Pet food manufacturers have responded with dozens of new products, including different food mixtures for specific dog breeds. Consumers are expecting high-quality pet food packaging that reflects product quality. Attractive images and graphics produced by advanced flexographic printing methods are providing shelf appeal and differentiating the multiplicity of products. There is also growing demand for innovative packaging features, such as clear windows and easy opening and re-closing components, that keep food fresh and prevent waste. One example is a flat-bottom bag that can be fitted with a variety of different closures to suit the application, including a top zipper, top slider or hook-and-loop closure. The closures allow consumers to seal the bag after use, protecting its contents and preserving freshness. By regularly reviewing packaging practices, pet food producers can help ensure that their packaging is up to date and compatible with the latest trends in the pet food sector.