Product innovation and compliance are intrinsically linked; you can’t go to market without meeting local legislation. But many food and beverage brands treat these two business areas as separate entities – only bringing in regulatory support in the final stages before launch.
Integrating brand compliance and innovation is a smart way for CPG companies to develop new ideas that can scale internationally. Scoping out the legal consequences of every decision early on prevents costly and time-consuming reworks, while empowering brands to develop products with sales potential in multiple consumer markets.
To help you identify potential regulatory issues and make strong commercial decisions up-front, here are three compliance questions to consider when you’re creating new food and beverage products:
1. How will I differentiate my product?
To stand out from other foods and beverages in the market, your new item or range needs a differentiator – and any product claims you make will need to be legally substantiated.
Chocolate is a good example of how new product development and compliance go hand-in-hand. Confectionery is well-regulated and chocolate’s product composition is fully understood; suppliers, buyers and consumers all know what they’re looking for.
However, with the average person consuming 7,560 chocolate bars in their lifetime, the market is both competitive and saturated. As a result, leading brands are experimenting with alternative flavourings and ingredients to capture sales.
Here are some examples of the interesting chocolate flavours currently available:
- Montezuma’s ‘Happy Hippy’ dark chocolate with orange and geranium oil
- Quirky Chocolate’s iron brew and popping candy bar
- H!P oat milk vegan chocolate bars
- Love Cocoa avocado dark chocolate
- Cocoa Loco dark chocolate, chilli and lime bar
- Tony’s Chocoloney dark milk pretzel toffee chocolate
- MIA cashew ginger spice cocoa bar
- Gnaw organic peanut butter white chocolate
While adding standard ingredients is easy to manage and market, confectionery brands need to be aware of how recipe choices impact product packaging and labelling.
For instance, if a new flavour contains nuts, this needs to be clearly stated – but mandatory allergen labelling is evolving all the time. For example, in 2021, Australia and New Zealand introduced Plain English Allergen Labelling (PEAL), which stipulates the format, font and location of warnings for the most serious food allergens (including nuts).
Read more on mandatory food allergen labelling.
With leftfield flavour combinations, legislation around the use of ingredients and extracts will also need to be validated by a compliance expert. If your product is or will be sold internationally, regulations may vary from country to country – and ingredients that are perfectly safe in one market may be banned in another.
For example, liquor-filled bonbons cannot be sold in the Middle East due to their alcohol content. Different additives may be required to assimilate the texture and taste within the regional compliance framework.
Pushing the flavour boundaries might create a USP, but it can have a significant impact on global viability. Any products sold through retailers will have their ingredient composition, packaging and labelling reviewed by in-house teams before an order is placed. Not aligning with local criteria can lead to a lost opportunity.
2. Am I planning on selling this product internationally?
Continuing on the subject of international sales, incorporating compliance early on can help food and beverage brands develop products that are suitable for multiple markets without changing the product composition.
Without legislative expertise to hand, it’s easy to develop a great tasting product that sells well in home territories but needs to be significantly reconfigured and repackaged to launch overseas.
A food compliance specialist helps brands to answer critical international trading questions such as:
- Are any aspects of the product regulated in your target markets, and will therefore need to be third-party certified? For example, non-GMO certification, carbon footprint verification (CFV) and/or Marine Stewardship Council approval.
- Will you need to register with local control bodies to validate product credentials? For example, any food brand wishing to market and sell organic products in the UK (like the Gnaw chocolate we mentioned earlier) will benefit from being a member of a control body like the Soil Association.
- Will you need to register with public health authorities to sell products overseas? This query often affects health food brands e.g. companies selling supplements with ‘new dietary ingredients’ in the USA are subject to FDA regulation
Even if brands are only planning a domestic launch initially, it’s worth seeking compliance advice during product innovation to maximise scalability, as local compliance schemes are not always recognised overseas. For instance, goods that have been certified as organic in Russia may lose their status when sold abroad (and therefore involve additional certification costs).
3. How will my product be sold and marketed?
Food legislation goes beyond creating a clear, compliant proposition and international regulatory strategy. It touches every aspect of new product development, including sales and marketing.
We’ve already mentioned the importance of validating product claims, and the same rings true across promotional activity. Every campaign message must be substantiated – but few marketers are trained in the legal compliance of food marketing.
If your brand is relying on the expertise of generalist digital agencies for marketing content such as social media posts and product listings, you run the risk of exaggerated features and unsupported claims slipping through the net. Often, legal issues only surface when they are raised by an official industry body such as the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – for example, Alpro’s recent advert being banned for claiming its products were ‘good for the planet’.
Imagery is just as tightly scrutinised by regulatory authorities, which leaves visual social channels like Instagram particularly vulnerable. Here are some common examples of food image non-compliance, which can lead to brands facing formal consequences:
- Products being photographed surrounded by ingredients that don’t form part of their composition
- Internationally circulated photos breaching local guidelines – for example, in some countries it is prohibited to show images of children snacking on products that are high in saturated fat, salted and sugar (HFSS foods)
- Social media influencers publishing sponsored images or video content alongside unsupported product claims, or not disclosing that the post is a paid advert. For instance, in 2020 the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled that Teami misled consumers when it allowed celebrities including Cardi B and Jordin Sparks to post about the weight loss properties of Teami teas without reliable scientific evidence to validate their claims
Working with a compliance specialist throughout campaign preparations will ensure that every marketing message meets legal requirements – and a specialist content localisation agency like Hooley Brown can both create marketing messages and verify their legality, for a cost-effective approach to international marketing and PR.
Early compliance builds stronger product innovation
Fast-growing food and beverage brands are constantly brainstorming the next big idea, and there’s a misconception that compliance impairs innovation. As a result, some new product development teams keep regulatory personnel out of the picture until later on.
Equally, when companies are focused on creating new concepts, it can be easy to forget about the legal impact of ingredients, packaging and marketing choices. Often, decisions need to be reworked at a later date once compliance advice has been sought.
With the right regulatory resources, however, involving compliance early on can boost NPD and international scalability. Legal experts make suggestions that promote long-term viability and limit the number of changes needing to be made retrospectively to enable global sales.
The three questions we’ve covered here are a great starting point to ensure your food brand is thinking about the compliance implications of new product development. But they are just the tip of the iceberg.
To receive comprehensive, personalised support, it’s best to enlist the services of a specialist food compliance agency like Hooley Brown. We’ve helped CPG brands launch products in over 80 countries worldwide and make smart decisions during innovation that drive global sales success.
For outsourced food compliance bespoke to your business needs, get in touch with Hooley Brown. You can also follow us on LinkedIn for more industry insights.
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