It’s taken 9 years, but on Friday the FDA finally outlined what foods can and what foods can’t be called gluten-free. According to these new rules, which go into effect a year from now, products that are labeled as gluten-free, no gluten, without gluten, and free of gluten must have no more than 20 ppm (parts per million) in order to be able to make that claim. Those products which do not meet that requirement will be subject to FDA regulation for misbranding. For more information, click here to see the FDA Consumer Update. Read more
Posts from the ‘Packaging’ Category
Packaging that jumps off the shelf takes many shapes and forms depending on the brand you’ve developed, color palette that fits that brand, and the stores you’re aiming to get into. There’s a whole host of things you need to take into consideration (much of which we’ll talk about more this year) but if you’re planning to sell your products wholesale into the retail channel then the most important part of your packaging is actually the most boring. Read more
Regardless of where you live in the US, the upcoming Memorial Day is the official start of Summer. It doesn’t matter that the kids aren’t out of school for another few weeks or, if you’re in a northern state, the fact that it really won’t get warm enough to break out the short sleeves for another month or so - Summer is officially here. This is great news for most but if you ship a temperature-sensative product, Summer can be be a time of huge stress. Read more
One of the tough things about being a small entrepreneur is that you want labels for your products that make you look professional and that are in-line with your brand, but you don’t have a ton of money to spend and don’t want to be forced to buy a minimum of 50,000 labels in order to be able to work with a quality printer. Read more
If your small food business ships product around the country or even around the world then you know how expensive shipping materials can be. And, with the holidays coming up, if you ship items then chances are you’ll be needing even more shipping boxes in the coming weeks. That’s why I wanted to make sure you were aware of Uline’s once-a-year Big Box Blowout (well, they call it the Super Carton Sale but I think Big Box Blowout has a better marketing ring to it!). You can save up to 39% off their over 1,100 different box sizes. Read more
Last month I wrote a post about the labeling requirements when it comes to claiming your food product is organic. As I pointed out, the organic label is not something you can slap onto anything and use unless you want to run the risk of having the USDA hand you a nice $11,000 fine. While you may know and understand the requirements, you need to make sure that any third parties you work with also understand the consequences of misusing the organic label. Why? Well here’s a short lessons learned story for you:
About a year after I started my small food business I hired a PR firm to represent me. If you’ve read my book you already know that the relationship did not exactly measure up the way I had hoped. However, what I forgot to mention was that during the course of our short relationship, the PR firm – unbeknownst to me – started marketing my company as organic in press releases. I had never claimed that my product or company was organic but they took it upon themselves to freely use the word organic. When I realized what was going on and called them in a panic they indicated that since my products used organic ingredients then they naturally thought thy could say the treats were organic. I had to explain to them that there were very strict rules about what can and cannot be considered organic and even if you use organic products you still have to certified by the USDA which, at that point, was not something I was willing to spend money to do. The PR firm apologized profusuely (though I was still charged for the work that was sent out) and I certainly realize that their actions weren’t malicious. They simply just didn’t know that they couldn’t say my company was organic. So my word of advice to anyone out there who works with a third party, be it a PR firm, a graphic artist, a marketing firm, etc, be sure that you sit down at the beginning of the relationship and explain to them how and why terms like organic or all-natural can and cannot be used.
Once Walmart announced they were going to start selling organic products it became obvious that organic foods – products that used to only be found in tiny natural food stores – have officially gone mainstrem. Before you start throwing the ‘Organic’ word on your product packaging or in your marketing material, know that ‘Organic’ is very heavily regulated and carries fines of up to $11,000 for misuse.
Here in the US, the United States Department of Agriculture oversees the National Organic Program. In combination with the Organic Foods Protection Act, these programs were put in place so that ‘Organic’ would have one consistent definition. That National Organic Program labeling and marketing requirements are applicable to food businesses whose gross business from the sale of organic products is no more than $5,000 per year.
So what are the rules? For processed food products, at least 70% of the ingredients must be organic before you can say that the products are “made with organic ingredients.” Even at the 70% level though the National Organic Program prohibits any foods from using the term ‘Organic’ if the foods are produced using “excluded methods, sewage sludge (are you serious???), or ionizing radiation.”
Using organic ingredients is one thing – getting certified by the USDA in order to be able to use the word ‘Organic’ or the USDA Organic mark (see example above) is another! If you sell more than $5000 of organic products in a year and want to use the ‘Organic’ phrase in your packing or marketing, you will have to have your organization certified by the USDA. This mean that you must have an organic system plan which outlines the practices and monitoring you have in place to ensure that all ‘Organic’ products meet the required regulations. A certifying agent will likely need to visit your facility to check that you are following all rules before you will be allowed to use any USDA Organic labeling.
If you can’t afford to have your products organic certified or can’t afford to use a minimum of 70% organic ingredients but you still want to use organic ingredients in your products, you can still call out which ingredients are organic in the ingredient panel. For example, your ingredient list might read: Apples, organic cinnamon, water…
More information about the USDA Organic Certification process can be found here.
Functional food is big business these days. Think about the last time you walked through a supermarket. You likely saw cereal that claimed to be good for your heart and juice that said it was full of antioxidents good for fighting free radicals. Even ads on tv claim that certain foods and certain brands can make you a healthier person. Before I get too far into the labeling requirements of functional foods, I want to make it clear that I don’t endorse this type of marketing. Unless you can clearly and scientifically show a link between what you’re making and how it will make someone healthier I think there are far better ways to market a product.
But should you want to start marketing functional claims about your food product, know that the FDA requires that there be scientific data backing up your claim. However, what many of the big food companies do is create a loose correlation between their product and an ingredient that has a known benefit. As this article in the New York Times pointed out two weeks ago, Quaker Oatmeal Squares claims to lower cholesterol. They don’t say that their cereal lowers cholesterol, just that oatmeal does and they leave it to the consumer to make the connection between oatmeal, their product, and a healthier life. (The New York Times then goes on to point out that Quaker Oatmeal Squares do not contain nearly enough oatmeal to have any heart-healthy benefits unless someone were to eat three bowls of it daily).
Legally what their claiming is not false but I’d argue that many functional foods are marketed in such a way as to mislead consumers. On the flip side, as a small food producer, one of your greatest strengths may lie in the fact that your product is likely not as processed or manipulated as the Big Brands. You could honestly tell someone that your popsicles are made with 100% real fruit and no added sugar and allow the consumers to decide whether they want an all-natural popsicle or one laden with high-fructose corn syrup that ‘claims’ to have functional benefits. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, consumers are getting smarter by the day and are taking a much closer look at labels and want to understand what’s in the food their eating. While legally you might be able to put a giant heart on your popsicle packaging and market it as heart-healthy the strongest marketing benefit of your product may be how you make your food (and how that’s different from Big Brands) or the ingredients you use (and how that’s different from Big Brands).
‘Natural’ is one of the hottest terms in the food world right now and it seems like every product is touting how natural it is. Interesting, natural – as well as terms like ‘free-range’ and ‘sustainably-harvested,’ are not regulated by the government. Most people associate ‘Natural’ with food that is minimally processed, free of synthetic preservatives and additives, and other articifical colros and flavors. Truth is, chances are that if you’re making your food products by hand (and choosing your ingredients with care) they likely fall under the broad ‘Natural’ definition.
Since there currently is no government oversight for this term, it is possible to label and market your product as ‘Natural.” Be forewarned though that customers who value natural products are generally (broad generalization!) astute label readers and there’s no quicker way to lose customer than by marketing your product as natural when your ingredient list indicates otherwise.