Product branding and information provided to consumers on food labels are again at loggerheads, and industry doesn't seem likely to accept new EU labelling proposals without a fight.
Specifically, food and beverage manufacturers are unwilling to increase the font size of mandatory on-pack information to 3mm.
The larger font size is one way the EC hopes to improve the clarity of information provided to consumers on food and beverage products. The proposal was adopted last week, taking it the first step towards the development of new EU regulations.
But larger writing could squash everything else out of the picture, according to the industry, which has put on its boxing gloves and is positioning itself for a fight.
Food manufacturers are arguing that label information in a font larger than that used by most newspapers would quite simply compromise a product's branding.
"The article puts legibility in question with brand recognition," said Sabine Nafziger, director of consumer information, diet and health issues at the industry body CIAA(Confederation of the Food and Drink Industries of the European Union).
Other arguments have, of course, also been thrown around, including consumer confusion, packaging aesthetics, and even more packaging waste as a result of bigger packaging.
Nestle, for example, said today that it supports the objective of legibility, but does not believe that the standardization of font sizes will "prove useful".
"Nestlé is convinced that many more factors such as package size, colours, background and general design layout have to be taken into consideration," it said.
Industry will no doubt be accused yet again of chasing the big bucks over providing consumers with clear and accurate information. But to completely dismiss such arguments would be irresponsible.
Ultimately, branding plays an important role in consumer choice - and although more and more people are reading labels today in search of nutrition information, they also place a heavy emphasis on brands they know and trust.
A workable compromise needs to be reached. Manufacturers do need guidance to be able to provide the most accurate information in the most useful way. But they need to be part of the debate, and can't always be viewed as the big bad enemy.
Lorraine Heller is editor of NutraIngredients-USA.com and is a specialist writer on food industry issues. With an international focus, she has lived and worked in the UK, Cyprus and France.
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