Dealing with labeling chaos

by Jeff Gelski
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The food and beverage industry may dwell in an age of "labeling chaos."

"This chaos is only going to continue to grow," said Dr. Cathy Kapica, vice-president of global health and wellness for Ketchum, Chicago.

She used the term to describe the abundance of labels on processed foods and beverages. Retail consumers must sort through better-for-you symbols, nutrient content claims, country-of-origin labels and organic seals. Recently, retail outlets such as Hannaford Supermarkets joined the labeling trend by creating their own symbols.

Dr. Kapica, a nutrition scientist with a doctorate in public health, spoke Feb. 28 in Chicago at "Food Technology Presents: Developing and Marketing Products for Consumer Health & Wellness." While the event run by the Institute of Food Technologists was designed to assist in the creation of healthier products, getting consumers to notice those products is another challenge.

Seventy per cent of all purchase decisions in the store are made in less than 2.6 seconds, said Russ Napolitano, vice-president of business development and strategy for Wallace Church, Inc., New York, a brand development consulting firm. In order, consumers notice color, shape, numbers and then text on retail packages, he said while speaking at the I.F.T. event.

Sometimes less is more, Mr. Napolitano added. He stressed the importance of simplicity and clearness in packaging design. For example, Mr. Napolitano praised how Lean Cuisine packages are color-coded by segment and price; how Cheerios’ boxes feature a big heart filled with the cereal; and how a sunflower serves as the core icon on the front of Lay’s potato chip packages.

"More is not always better," said Dr. Joy Dubost, principal nutritionist for PepsiCo, Valhalla, N.Y., at the I.F.T. event. Promoting too many health benefits on one package may fail to sway customers.

In developing health and wellness products, Dr. Dubost said PepsiCo generally has three options: enhance or fortify products with a positive nutrient, decrease nutrients that may be detrimental to health, or address consumer behavior. For example, many consumers associate heart health with products high in fiber, whole grain or omega-3 fatty acids, she said.

PepsiCo places a Smart Spot logo on products that meet certain nutrition criteria. Besides companies and health organizations, governments may authorize logos on food and beverage packages. The Food Standards Agency in the United Kingdom already has a traffic light labeling system that uses red, yellow or green symbols.

Dr. Kapica of Ketchum said governments could prove too cumbersome to run such a symbols program. She would like to see a science-based system for symbols that could work internationally and across different categories, from supermarkets to convenience stores and even food service.

"Science is universal," she said.

A potential entity to run a symbols program would need to be a not-for-profit business, she said. It would need the flexibility to evolve with science, but academic institutions may have trouble reaching consumers. The entity would need to have the marketing ability of the biggest food manufacturers.


Top 10 packaging tips

Russ Napolitano, vice-president of business development and strategy for Wallace Church, Inc., a brand development consulting firm in New York, gave his packaging optimization top 10 list:

1. Make packaging an integral part of the product’s marketing mix.

2. Packaging must show a product’s health and well ness story in a unique way.

3. Capture the essence of the brand.

4. Understand consumers. Talk to them often.

5. Look outside of a product category for inspiration and innovation. Health and beauty aids are an option as are automotive products.

6. Keep one eye looking forward and one eye looking back.

7. Understand the retail environment where products are displayed.

8. Be a champion and push all boundaries while staying true to the brand. Zig when others zag.

9. Gather a team of experts early in the process.

    1. Create a 360-degree experience. Engage consumers on all levels.

This article can also be found in the digital edition of Food Business News, March 18, 2008, starting on Page 24. Click
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