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Robert M. Kerr Food & Agricultural Products Center

Staking your claim

Food entrepreneurs must answer many questions to evaluate whether to move forward with developing new food products. Some of the questions include: what are the benefits of the product, what are the good and bad characteristics about it, and why would someone want to buy the product?

By Andrea Graves

Food entrepreneurs must answer many questions to evaluate whether to move forward with developing new food products. Some of the questions include: what are the benefits of the product, what are the good and bad characteristics about it, and why would someone want to buy the product?

Inevitably, a long list of claims can often start to appear on the list such as “healthy,” “low in salt,” “gluten free,” “sugar free,” “no preservatives,” “no added sugar,” “no chemicals,” “organic,” “no GMOs,” “good for your heart” and more.

At first glance these so-called food claims seem fine because, for example, salsa is made of vegetables, and we learned in grade school vegetables are good for you and that is a good thing, right? So, why not let everyone know your salsa is healthy? Of course, we are telling the truth. Or, are we?

With endless information available at our fingertips, it often is not quite enough to produce a new food product that merely tastes and looks good. Competition is fiercer than ever.

According to Mintel, the world’s leading market intelligence agency, there is an 80 percent failure rate for new product launches in the grocery segment by larger food companies, and a success rate of only 11 percent of new products launched by smaller companies. Consumer demand for foods perceived as healthy or with benefits continues to climb, and food companies are trying to meet the need.

Before making any kind of claim, it is imperative processors check the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations. There are four types of label claims that can be made on a food product regulated by FDA: nutrient content claims, health claims, qualified health claims and structure function claims. Each type has specific definitions, requirements for the claims that can be made and specific wording that must be used when making the claim. Some claims must have certain supporting material, such as a disclosure statement, and food labels with any claim must have a nutrition fact panel. If a claim is not on the FDA list, then it is not allowed on the label.

It is important to note any claim made on a product also can extend to wording on the product website or even marketing materials. FDA considers these to be extensions of the food label and can require the information be removed or changed if an improper claim is made or implied when marketing the food product, or the product might be removed from the shelves.

It is good to be competitive and have a marketing strategy using the strengths of products, but food companies must be careful about claims. Manufacturers should learn the definitions and how they can be used intelligently and legally. For more information about claims, visit the FDA website at https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm064908.htm.