European health claims minefield spurs clean label interest, notes policy expert

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05 Jun 2018 --- Clean label has moved from being a trend to almost the norm and has proven itself as a key influencer in purchasing patterns. Considering the length and costs of gaining authorization for health claims, food and beverage companies look to other ways of bringing their products to consumers’ attention and for many, going clean label is the way forward. This is according to Nathalie Henin, Scientific and Regulatory Advisor for Keller and Heckman LLP, who spoke at the 13th International Workshop on Nutrition & Health Claims Europe in Brussels, Belgium.

In her talk, Clean Label vs Nutrition and Health Claims: Can both work together? Henin posits that “[According to research,] clean label is more attractive than health claims.” 

“For example, products positioned as natural or free-from additives rank higher in Europe [among consumers] than products with health claims such as added fiber.”

Click to Enlarge
Nathalie Henin, Scientific and Regulatory Advisor
for Keller and Heckman LLP.

According to Henin, the Nutrition and Health Claim Regulation entails that the average time for approving a health claim can be 2.5 years, with the average costs running up to €1 million. These factors, combined with the fact that scientific substantiation can be difficult to achieve, show “the need for other solutions to highlight changes or reformulation” to ensure that manufacturers efforts with regards to reformulation are valued. 

“The Nutrition and Health Claim Regulation has very strict conditions and the procedure for [attaining] new health claims is very long and costly. Of course, it then becomes easier to go through clean label as there is no regulation, which is why food and beverage companies will opt for this route,” she says. 

Clean label has no legal definition and has become more widespread over the past years, due to increased consumer scrutiny and demand for “clarity, transparency and naturality,” Henin notes.

Innova Market Insights has noted that the number of overt functional or “active” health claims in Europe has stabilized in the wake of tightening claims regulations and other overarching health trends such as clean label, having an impact on functional new product innovation. Consumers are increasingly looking to inherent health benefits from natural ingredients which convey better-for-you appeal. 

The EU claims regulation situation has necessitated a rethink by companies already in the market. They are often looking to the use of softer claims while benefiting from existing consumer awareness of the potential benefits of certain products and ingredients.

Communication around a product and its ingredients fall outside of the scope of the EU’s Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation if it does not relate to the energy, nutrient or health characteristics of the product. However, product communication, such as clean label claims, must comply with the fair information requirements as set out by the European Commission. These requirements state that food information must not be misleading, for example with regards to the characteristics of the food and its effects. 

Moreover, food information must be accurate, clear and easy to understand. This also applies to advertising and the presentation (packaging) of foods, she states. 

Beyond clean label, Henin notes that “natural” claims are also on the rise. However, with the exception of flavorings, no EU harmonization exists regarding the usage of such terms. 

“The concept of ‘natural’ or ‘nature’ is one of the most sensitive and difficult to define. A restrictive interpretation would lead to the use of the term ‘natural’ only for products growing by themselves such as wild strawberries,” Henin tells NutritionInsight

European harmonization would help to offer clarity to what is a diverse and complex regulatory minefield, she notes. “Certain Member States have guidance on the use of natural claims that do not encompass the same rules. An EU harmonization would bring clarity and progressive understanding to consumers. It would prevent misleading claims on products and create a more fair-play environment for the industry,” she adds.

By Lucy Gunn

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