US nutrition labels receive biggest overhaul in 20 years

June 21, 2016
4 min read

After many years of deliberations, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized changes to the nutrition fact label that appears on packaged food and drink products sold in the US. The new label will have an updated design to make the information easier to find and understand, which should appeal to the majority of consumers as, according to Mintel’s Food Packaging Trends: Spotlight on Food Labeling US 2015 report, only a quarter of grocery shoppers find the current nutrition facts panel easy to understand.

Updates include increased type sizes for calories, servings per container and serving size, and the number of calories and serving sizes will be bolded to highlight this information for consumers. Additionally, the footnote for the definition of percent daily value has been modified to provide a clearer explanation of what it refers to. Serving sizes have also been updated to more accurately reflect the amount consumers eat. In an effort to reduce consumers’ sodium intake, daily values have also been updated to reflect the current recommendations by health officials.

33% of US grocery shoppers say nutrition labels influence their purchase

These new changes are significant and could impact consumer purchases, especially with changes to serving sizes, as a third of US grocery shoppers agree they influence purchase.

Manufacturers will have until July 26, 2018 to comply with the new regulations. Small manufacturers, with annual food sales less than $10 million, will have until 2019. Foods imported into the US will also need to comply with these regulations.

What’s new: Added sugars

Currently, products are required to include grams of total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat, as well as calories from fat. However, the new label removes calories from fat. As discussed in Mintel’s 2016 Food + Drink Trend, Fat Sheds Sigma, fat is experiencing a paradigm shift and people are beginning to understand that the type of fat consumed is more important the amount of fat consumed.

One of the more significant changes to the nutrition facts labels is the addition of added sugar in both grams and as percent daily value. With the maximum daily value for added sugars set to 50g per day, less than a quarter of consumers who use sugar/sugar substitutes agree they probably consume more than the daily recommended amount, according to Mintel’s Sugar and Alternative Sweeteners US 2015. However, the majority of Americans are consuming more added sugar in their diet than they should be. Including added sugars on the nutrition fact label will keep the spotlight on sugar and its role in health.

Mandatory micronutrient changes

Another significant change to the new labels is the mandatory addition of vitamin D and potassium. Currently, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C are required on the nutrition facts label.The new labels will still require calcium and iron to be listed, but including vitamins A and C will be voluntary. Vitamin D and potassium are nutrients of concern for the US population as many Americans struggle to intake the proper amount. When the first labels were published in the early 1990s, many Americans did not consume enough vitamin A and C, but deficiencies of these vitamins are now rare in the US.

In recent years, we’ve seen some products voluntarily include potassium and vitamin D on the nutrition fact label. In fact, the percentage of new US food and drink products launched with nutrition information about potassium has more than doubled in the past five years, accoridng to Mintel Global New Products Database (GNPD). The percentage of US food and drink products with nutrition information about vitamin D has also increased since 2012, however at a slower pace.

What we think

The FDA’s new label offers consumers the transparency they’re looking for, and the changes will continue to influence conversations about nutrition in the US. As the amount of added sugar in products continues to be scrutinized, with continued pressure placed on manufacturers to reduce added amounts in their products, the declaration of grams and a percent daily value (%DV) for “added sugars” will help consumers know how much sugar they are actually consuming. Furthermore, the addition of potassium and vitamin D to the nutrient fact label will likely bring more attention to these nutrients and, hopefully, encourage consumption. Although changes made to serving sizes will better reflect typical consumption of foods, the higher values associated with nutrients may come as a surprise to consumers.

Stephanie Mattucci is a Global Food Science Analyst at Mintel. Prior to Mintel, Stephanie worked as a Food Scientist in R&D for an ingredients company in Chicago, where she specialized in seasoning product development and provided technical expertise to customers in the food industry.

Stephanie Mattucci
Stephanie Mattucci

Stephanie Mattucci is the Associate Director, Food Science at Mintel. Prior to Mintel, Stephanie worked as a food scientist in R&D for an ingredients company.

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