Future-proofing Food Labelling 

Rashida Vapiwala, Founder,  LabelBlind

In the past 100 years, food trends in the culinary landscape have been influenced by health concerns, convenience, novelty, and societal shifts. The trajectory from health-focused and technologically driven trends of the 20th century transitioned into an industrial food system and a quest for variety. Diet culture, innovation in food, economic growth, and advertising moulded the course of our cuisine, while regional cuisines and beliefs around food habits remained firmly entrenched in our social and cultural fabric. This evolution has been characterised by the interplay of health, convenience, and novelty in shaping each decade’s food trends.

The last decade will be remembered for their food processing innovations, culinary quirks and gastronomic adventures. There has been a rapid rise in the sales of ultra-processed foods in India as per the report from WHO and ICRIER. Chocolates, sugar confectioneries, salty snacks and ready-to-eat food have shown maximum growth. Meal kits and semi-processed foods swooped in to save the day, making the 10-minute meal a reality for busy folks everywhere.

From food trucks to the rise of unicorn-inspired foods, the decade was an endless rollercoaster of flavours and innovation. As traditions waned and the nuclear families emerged as social representation of the times, spending more on dining out gained popular acceptance. Food delivery apps ensured our cravings were satiated with just a few taps on our screens. Amidst the wacky and whimsical, a health-conscious revolution has been brewing. Superfoods and plant-based alternatives are becoming a rage, with millets, kale, avocado, seeds coming centre stage. 

The present decade, though not even halfway done, has put us through quite a lot already: the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis, the war in Ukraine, and a growing divide between the haves and have-nots. But tumultuous times inevitably bring change, even in the realm of gastronomy. In times of instability and general anxiety, the food world has returned to its roots, embracing home cooking and the return to regional ingredients.

Simultaneous Journey of Progress

Food Labelling Standards are a yardstick to assess changing consumer preferences, along with technological advancements in food processing and manufacturing, global competitiveness of food products, and emerging public health and environmental concerns.

The origin of food labelling standards can be traced back to the early 20th century, when governments and consumer groups began to recognise the need for accurate and consistent information on food products. 

Internationally, the Codex Alimentarius Commission, established by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and World Health Organisation (WHO), has played a key role in developing food labelling standards. Codex standards are used as a basis for national regulations in many countries around the world.

Indian Food Regulation Standards 

Indian food regulation standards are relatively recent but are rapidly developing to adapt to global standards while focusing on public health and safety in the country. It has gathered momentum and is keeping pace with rapid developments in the food industry.

  • Prevention of Food Adulteration Act of 1954 was the first major legislation to regulate food safety and prevent adulteration in India.
  • The Bureau of Indian Standards Act of 1986 established the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS), which sets standards for food quality.
  • The Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006 created the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which is responsible for setting standards for food safety and regulating the manufacture, storage, distribution, sale, and import of food products in India.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations of 2011 established standards for food packaging and labelling, including requirements for nutritional information, allergen labelling, and other key information.
  • Food Safety and Standards (Organic Foods) Regulations of 2017 and Food Safety and Standards (Vegan Foods) Regulations of 2022 set standards for the production, processing, certification, and labelling of organic foods and vegan foods in India respectively.

Charting the Future of Food Labelling: 

  1. Digitisation of Food Labelling through Technology Partnership
  • Strengthen accuracy and compliance: By moving the food labelling process from manual workloads to cloud-based labelling management services enabled by Artificial Intelligence, SaaS solutions, and QR-enabled product transparency, this target is achievable. 
  • Increased focus on transparency and sustainability: Consumers are increasingly interested in knowing more about the origins of their food, including how it was produced, processed, and transported.
  • More emphasis on health and wellness: As rates of diet-related chronic diseases continue to rise, we will need more stringent requirements for health and nutrition labelling. This could include mandatory labelling for added sugars, trans-fat, fruits, nuts, vegetables and millet content of foods that are linked to human health.
  • Harmonisation of global standards: With increasing globalisation of the food industry, some developed nations may work towards harmonising food labelling standards across different countries and regions. This could help to reduce confusion and facilitate trade, while ensuring that consumers have access to accurate and consistent information.
  1. Expansion of Regulations 
    • Introduce provisions for Halal, Kosher, and GMO food categories.
    • Get standalone restaurants and street vendors under the purview of the Menu Labelling regulations, considering the popularity and frequency of consumption amongst youth. 
    • Endorse third-party label verification or introduce the “verified by FSSAI” logo for packed food labels to improve labelling compliance.
    • Establishment-based risk assessment model – Rank FBOs on the risk they pose to consumers in terms of food safety and nutrition and governing frequencies for assessments.
    • More focus on ESG – Environment, Sustainability and Governance shaping standards across the world.
    • Scope of animal feed that eventually impacts non-vegetarian diet in the form of toxins, contaminants in meat, milk, etc. 
    • Adoption of global best practices like RASFF (Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed) to allow food safety authorities to rapidly exchange information on health risks derived from food or feed so that they can take immediate action to avert the risk.
  1. Regulatory Simplification and Compliance across categories
    • Front-of-Pack (FOP) labelling for High Fat, Sugar, Salt (HFSS) to guide consumer choices of healthy food consumption. 
    • Emphasise prominent display of serving sizes to highlight potential health risks due to excessive consumption.
    • Establish mechanisms for consumers to report discrepancies or concerns about food labelling, leading to regulatory improvements.

Being Future-Ready with Nutrition Labelling

In an era where consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious and demanding transparent information about the products they consume; the role of food labelling has taken centre stage. As the food industry continues to evolve, staying future-ready with effective nutrition labelling is paramount. It not only caters to the informed consumer but also aligns businesses with evolving regulations and market trends.

Consumer-centric Approach: The foundation of effective nutrition labelling lies in understanding consumer needs and preferences. 

Technological Integration: Technology is a game-changer in modern nutrition labelling. This integration not only enhances consumer engagement but also provides brands with an opportunity to establish a direct connection with their audience.

Adapting to Changing Regulations: Being future-ready means staying agile in the face of evolving global regulations. Nutrition labelling standards are subject to change based on scientific research and consumer demand. 

Transparency and Sustainability: Beyond nutritional content, future-ready labelling will likely encompass broader aspects of sustainability and ethical sourcing. 

Educational Empowerment: Future-ready nutrition labelling extends beyond a mere list of numbers. It becomes a tool for education. Labels that explain the significance of nutrients, their benefits, and potential risks educate consumers and encourage healthier choices.

In a rapidly changing food landscape, being future-ready with nutrition labelling is not just a regulatory obligation, it’s a strategic imperative. Businesses that invest in clear, transparent, and consumer-centric labelling are poised to build stronger consumer relationships, foster loyalty, and navigate the evolving demands of the modern food industry. Embracing technological innovations, adapting to changing regulations, and prioritising consumer well-being will define success on this journey toward a healthier and more transparent future.

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