Worst Face Forward?

Smart ChoicesFood Manufacturers might be forced to introduce new front-of-package labeling if the FDA gets its way. The FDA will be releasing new guidelines in early 2011 for food manufacturers to follow that are intended to give consumers more useful, uniform and clearer nutritional labeling. It seems that the FDA is attempting to combat the many front-of-package bursts that companies now use to tout benefit claims such as fiber and vitamins to name a few. One such independant program that attempted to help companies unify packaging claims is Smart Choices.  The program, which has been adopted by some food companies, was developed due to a need for a single front-of-pack nutrition labeling program, one that U.S. food manufacturers and retailers could voluntarily adopt to promote informed food choices with the intent to help consumers construct better diets. With the FDA now taking the lead on this, Smart Choice has halted operations until the smoke clears on the FDA’s ruling. 

This creates an interesting conundrum for both consumers and food companies. For consumers, how much information is too much? Do we need to know that our junk food has junk in it?  When food companies have to label their products similar to cigarettes (This product is not good for you) will they begin to create healthier offerings? Will consumers want them too?

Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, the FDA commissioner, said that under the changes being discussed, putting nutrition information on the front of packages would be voluntary.  She often references a package-front labeling program in Britain that uses red, yellow or green dots — like traffic signals — to indicate the relative amounts of important ingredients.

Package Designers spend all of their time trying to present the most appealing image to the public. Perhaps a new, more uniformed approach will eliminate the often atrociously ugly “burst” barnacles that seem to grow on packaging with every brand manager’s new request.  But a traffic signal? Hmmm, it will be interesting to see how they incorporate these new guidelines at the shelf. I think the current nutritional labeling system is a pretty decent place for the consumer to get useful information, and they are already used to it. What do you think?

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