New labelling rules may prompt rebranding efforts

Mandatory nutritional labelling of prepackaged foods could well kick off a rebranding boom when the new guidelines come into force early next year....

Mandatory nutritional labelling of prepackaged foods could well kick off a rebranding boom when the new guidelines come into force early next year.

Thomas Pigeon, CEO of Oakville, Ont. brand identity firm The Thomas Pigeon Design Group, calls the Health Canada guidelines ‘the biggest thing to hit the food industry since the UPC.’

On Oct. 19, Health Minister Allan Rock called for standardized nutritional labelling to provide consumers information on calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fibre, sugar, protein, Vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. The guidelines call for the labelling to be consistent, easy to find, legible and easy to understand. Marketers will have two years to comply with the new rules.

Although many food manufacturers already include some nutritional information on their packaging, the new guidelines will make it that much more difficult for consumers to ignore the fact that some of their favourite foods aren’t good for them.

And therein lies the problem. Once consumers realize just how bad for them some foods really are, isn’t there a risk they’ll simply drop them in favour of something more virtuous?

Not likely, says Lynda Murray, vice-president of marketing for Kitchener, Ont.-based potato chip maker Humpty Dumpty Snack Foods. That’s because when consumers reach for a bag of chips, they’re under no illusion that it’s a low-cal, low-fat product.

‘[Potato chips are] an indulgence. It’s a craving product. It’s not going to curb people from eating them,’ she says.

Furthermore, nutritional labelling is already standard practice in the snack food category, says Murray, so she doesn’t anticipate people will be shocked into changing their habits.

‘I think consumers are pretty much informed about the types of products they’re eating – it’s just more information.’

Pigeon, for his part, says the new guidelines do open the potential for consumer backlash against foods that are unhealthy, but says that progressive marketers can mitigate the risk by using the mandatory redesign of their packaging as an opportunity to revisit their brands’ core values.

Some marketers say they’re actually looking forward to the day when they have to reveal all. Brian Mirsky, president of The Campbell Soup Co. of Canada, says he expects his company – which has seen its soup sales decline over the past 12 months – will benefit from the new rules.

In fact, Mirsky says Campbell’s considers nutritional labelling such a key marketing vehicle that it will likely refer to the label in its advertising.

Mike Welling, vice-president of brand development, foods, for Unilever Canada, also supports more stringent guidelines, in part because his company has been able to exploit the nutritional attributes of products such as Becel margarine – positioned since its launch in 1978 as the margarine for healthy hearts.

Indeed, Welling hopes that Health Canada will bring in further changes, harmonizing its guidelines with the U.S. to make it easier for companies that market on a North American basis. Currently, he says, Canadian marketers can use only five of 13 generic health claims that have been approved for use in the U.S.

‘In the context of ever-expanding international trade, the opportunity to try to get some greater consistency is an important consideration.’