Ensuring accurate claims on product labels is critical to any business, and the laws are clear.  Get it wrong or make a false claim and the result could be disastrous. It could lead to customers buying elsewhere, possibly leading to the demise of the product or even the company. It could also result in costly court action.

Food and grocery manufacturers are acutely aware of the importance of getting label claims right.

In the case of food manufacturers, claims are literally a matter of life and death. For example, an inaccurate ingredients list could lead to a consumer eating something they are allergic to. A wrong use-by date could mean consumption of a product that has become dangerous.

So, there’s a lot hanging on label accuracy. Thankfully, producers have shown their labels can be trusted. Billions of products are sold each year but there has only ever been a miniscule number of breaches of the Food Standards Code, mostly due to oversight. Partly thanks to this, New Zealanders inherently trust our food products, and the industry works hard to keep it that way.

Over the past couple of years, more consumers have also begun to demand trust around products’ claims they are ‘green’ – that packaging really is made from recycled, recyclable or compostable materials as described. This goes hand-in-hand with what surveys are showing, particularly post-COVID – that consumers are increasingly looking for brands that are socially responsible and purposeful.

Against that background, the Food & Grocery Council is doing ground-breaking work on packaging sustainability.

Our Sustainability Committee, comprising representatives of member companies as well as from Countdown and Foodstuffs North Island, is working to a big agenda, tackling plastics and paper/fibre use and recycling, metal collection and recycling, input into the establishment of a beverage container return scheme, and compostability of packaging.

Led by Christian Abboud, CEO of Nestlé, with advice from sustainability expert Lyn Mayes, of Mad World, they are changing the face of how companies look at packaging.

The work of their Compostable Products sub-committee is particularly interesting because it’s an area that till now hasn’t been investigated to the extent others have. Led by Damian Wright, of Clorox, it has dived deep into compost facilities (not literally), and talked to manufacturers, supermarkets, government officials, and overseas experts to build its knowledge about how compostable products need to be handled in New Zealand’s waste stream.

It concluded compostable products to be consumed at home are not introduced into the market until there is infrastructure to take them. Basically, New Zealand doesn’t have the infrastructure for commercial composting of compostable plastic products and their packaging, and home compost units are not at scale. This “Not for Now” has been agreed by the FGC Board.

The group has identified steps needed before it will recommend the introduction of plastic compostable packaging and products for household use, and is working on how they might be implemented.

It’s a decision that’s aligned with the Commerce Commission’s environmental claims guidance. That says compostable claims should be backed up by “firm evidence” that products or packaging will break down into usable compost in an industrial composting facility or a home composting system, and that “To avoid misleading consumers, [companies] should also consider the availability of composting facilities for consumers likely to acquire the goods. Any known limitations or qualifications around access to or availability of such facilities should be clearly and prominently shown.”

While labelling can often be a challenge for manufacturers, this is another area where FGC supports its members. If you need advice, you’re welcome to call us. We also welcome participation in our Sustainability Committee. Although now, with over 70 dedicated industry leaders involved, it’s more of a movement!

(originally published in FMCG Business magazine)