Beyond rules and regulations – 3 ways labels can win trust

* 4 min read

Labelling is part and parcel of the consumer experience. Whether it’s traffic lights bearing nutritional information or the origin marking stamped on a piece of meat, labels feature heavily in our interaction with products each day.

As such, labelling is a serious consideration across the entire supply chain. A label signifies clarity, accuracy and honesty – so labelling mishaps or errors can have far-reaching consequences, resulting in loss of consumer trust and consequently, the difference between sales or food waste.

In today’s “always-on”, connected society we’re quick not just to notice, but broadcast, any perceived slip-up. So maintaining excellent labelling standards is more vital than ever. Whether it’s to inform health-conscious shoppers or fulfil legal obligations, all brands must clearly and accurately state the necessary information of the products they sell.

It’s not just a legal imperative. Ultimately, all organisations, no matter their size, depend on their reputation to survive – and labelling goes hand in hand with this. So how do you ensure best practice to drive trust?

1. Total Recall – how to keep your product on-shelf

Every consumer is different, each with their own allergies, conditions and dietary requirements. To protect against product recall, it is vital that brands are committed to robustlines of communication. The ability to deliver consistency is inextricably linked with having the right information and traceability systems and processes and expertise in place.

In fact, the most common cause of product recall is not a labelling issue at all, it’s the wrong product in packaging. This can mean incorrect allergen information or something more technical is wrong. This is followed closely by the presence of undeclared allergens. Food manufacturers frequently don’t know exactly what is in the ingredients they use. Most often this undeclared allergen will be sulphites or milk derivatives.

More often than not, mistakes like this boil down to human error or lack of knowledge. To some extent, this is an issue that can’t be eradicated completely. But the soundest form of prevention is simple – ensuring your own people have the necessary knowledge of the requirements, risks and measures to manage those risks.

2. Health claims – you are what you eat

Words like “healthy”, “low fat” and “helps maintain such and such” are dubious without the scientific evidence to back them up. The claims brands make on their labels must be based on scientific fact.

Fortunately, the good majority follow the rules.. The rules around health claims from the EU have seen a shift from the loose principles of “can you prove it’s wrong” to the water-tight “can you prove it’s true”. This means that the snake-oil salesman should no longer get away unpunished.

There are exceptions however. Herbal products, including tea and food supplements have had all claims ‘parked’ until the science is considered more carefully, allowing packages to feature unsubstantiated claims like “it can help you relax”. But brands who deal in ambiguity are in dangerous territory.  At some point the EU will pass judgement and then ‘herbal’ claims may well go the way of probiotics. 

3.  Documentary & traceability – the importance of authenticity

The buzzword of the moment in food is authenticity and this concept applies for labelling too. What’s more, it goes hand in hand with consumer trust. As mentioned above, the last thing brands want to do is mislead the consumer or put them at risk.

Traceability is increasingly important herein demonstrating that a food, or ingredient, is authentic. Essentially, consumers want to know where their food is coming from and the label is the simplest way to communicate this. But the label is only as good as the information source that sits behind it.

The notion of traceability can work in a supplier’s favour too. A particularly encouraging example here relates to British farmers. According to YouGov, 79% of adults in the UK think it’s important that Brits buy local produce, so origin marking can help farmers get support where it counts. However you must be able to prove it is actually British.

Moving forward, technology may help promote better practices in traceability. Testing and analysis is constantly developing new ways to determine geographical origin, or species/ variety. Advances like RFID not only ensure origins are accessible digitally, it also has the potential to aid in other areas, pointing consumers towards the impact of individual food choices on their overall diet.

But at any rate, the time-honoured principles of labelling remain the same. Brands that are committed to honesty and to transparency will retain consumer trust. 

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