From November, some product and sales tickets in the fresh and deli sections of supermarkets will need to be updated. That’s when the first new regulations on Country of Origin labelling of food products come into force.

In both the supermarket chains and independents such as Moore Wilson’s, Country of Origin information has already be clear in most places, and New Zealand and Australian manufacturers have been ‘loud and proud’ about their produce for a long time.

Similar changes will be required in the frozen food section from May 2023. These changes were the subject of considerable time and debate in Parliament and in the media over recent years.

The regulations will apply to food made up of only one type of fruit or vegetable, fish or seafood, or meat (including cured pork) that is fresh – and no more than “minimally processed” – as well as refrigerated, frozen or blanched. Such foods will be required to reveal the one or more countries or oceans in which they were grown, raised, caught, or harvested, and the regulations are clear about how that happens.

The information must be:

  • in clear and legible English or Māori text
  • sufficient to enable a shoppers to know how the product is related to the one or more countries or oceans mentioned
  • on the item or its packaging, or on signs next to the item, or as part of an offer or advertisement (but not audio).

Multiple countries, where the origin changes, can also be listed, as long as a statement is included to make clear not all of the countries may be relevant to that item.

But though the changes may appear to be small, they will come at some time and money cost to suppliers. To start with, the regulations don’t give a definition of “minimally processed”, leaving it up to suppliers to work out what that means.

Uncertainty brings stress and cost if a manufacturer gets something wrong. Examples of processing that does not prevent a food from being minimally processed include cutting, mincing, juicing, filleting, shucking, peeling and washing. Other types of processing may be considered outside the scope of “minimally processed”, though there are no examples of this in the regulations.

There’s also the cost of re-labelling some products.

The Food & Grocery Council has long been a strong supporter of voluntary country of origin labelling for fresh produce. We worked with Retail NZ and the supermarket chains more than a decade ago to achieve the voluntary fruit and vegetable labelling we’re all used to seeing in the fresh produce aisles. This now covers around 70-80% of fresh fruit and vegetables sold in New Zealand.

We didn’t like a lot of what was originally proposed in the Bill that preceded these regulations, and would like to think our opposition to including basic parts of the family food budget in it saw coffee (instant and capsules), tea, sugar, eggs, flour, custard powder, pepper, cooking oils, oats, spices, rice, and breakfast cereals excluded.

That would have inevitably led to price increases and confusion, so it was good to see some common sense prevail.
And though we opposed the inclusion of frozen products (that was where we saw the bulk of the regulatory costs landing), at least our fall-back position of an extended transition period for them was accepted, in part.

So to the upcoming changes.

FGC will be helping members get ready for them with webinars and support. We have been in touch with both the Ministry for Business Innovation and Employment and the Commerce Commission regarding getting clear guidelines for members.

The Commerce Commission say they hope to have them ready soon for distribution, and that’s welcome news because there will be many thousands of labels for companies to change between now and November 12.

(originally published in Supermarket News)