Evolving allergen guidelines, pushes to enact the Food Labeling Modernization Act (FLMA), and many other new regulations may aid consumers, but they’re also placing increased pressure on food and beverage manufacturers, distributors, and their supply chains. In this environment, many organizations are finding they must modernize their labeling processes quickly to future-proof their operations.
The key to success is dynamically adapting to changing regulations while simultaneously streamlining operations, and this will only become more critical in the coming years. But, far too many organizations are held back by issues such as a lack of consistent label templates, human error from manual data entry, or fragmented and siloed systems and facilities.
Taking an enterprise-wide labeling approach, often referred to as enterprise labeling, that properly leverages data, standardizes operations, and enables automation is critical, not only for improving traceability and food safety today, but also for propelling supply chains and businesses into the future. Here are a few crucial challenges and best practices to consider when modernizing your labeling operations.
What Is Enterprise Labeling?
The days of different production facilities and distribution centers managing labels in isolation, with manually inputted data, varying software applications, and constantly changing ad-hoc solutions, are being rapidly phased out. Instead, many companies operating domestically and globally today are adopting an enterprise labeling approach.
Enterprise labeling involves standardizing and integrating labeling with business processes and across business lines and geographies, as well as housing labeling on a scalable, centralized platform equipped with the latest capabilities.
For instance, with enterprise labeling, labeling can be easily integrated with an organization’s other applications, such as its enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution (MES), or product lifecycle management (PLM) systems. One centralized platform can also ensure that everyone can access the same label data and that it’s tracked consistently.
Additionally, with one labeling platform plugged into an entire enterprise’s processes and sources of truth, organizations can implement automation, advanced logic, and other tools to improve quality and save time.
In a trend that will likely continue for the foreseeable future, recent regulatory changes in the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom have all bolstered standards around allergens and food safety. For example, the U.S. government has recently been seeking to approve new requirements for front-of-package labels with the FLMA, which will help improve nutrition labeling, enforce clearer listings of ingredients, and address ecommerce and online shopping labels.
Though new regulations will surely change labeling in the future, there are several prominent regulatory requirements every food and beverage company should be aware of today:
- FDA Nutrition Fact Labels and the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA): FSMA brought major changes to the entire food supply chain, with traceability being a key requirement. For example, companies must provide full transparency into how products are made and where they are located as they travel through the supply chain, a process that must be mapped out on food labels. Also of note, nutrition labels must adhere to many regulations designed to give consumers the information they need to make safer, more informed consumption decisions. FDA also issued new nutrition fact label regulations in 2020 and 2021 (the final date for compliance is Jan. 1, 2024). Key changes from these updates pertain to label font sizes and contents to better communicate nutrition information.
- Allergen labeling: Natasha’s Law requires U.K. food companies to provide full ingredient lists and allergen labeling on all foods that are “pre-packaged for direct sale.” This legislation, which went into effect in October 2021, will have a large impact on food prepared onsite. Similarly, in the U.S., allergen labeling regulations are continually changing. For instance, the Faster Act labeling regulations recently recognized sesame as a major food allergen of concern, and the legislation states that the allergen must be clearly labeled. Failing to meet these regulations not only endangers consumers, but also leads to hefty non-compliance penalties.
- Mexico’s NOM-051-SCFI/SSA1-2010: In March 2020, Mexico amended NOM-051-SCFI/SSA1-2010 to include front-of-pack warning labels for foods and beverages high in sugar, energy, trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium. Now enforced, the law applies to all prepackaged foods and impacts non-alcoholic beverages as well. The law also addresses specific labeling requirements for food supplements, which must now include information such as mandatory warnings, nutrition declarations, and expiry dates.
- EU Regulation 1169/2011: In place since 2011, this law gives the 28 EU member states common legislation regulating food labeling information and sets a standard format for nutrition and food labeling to provide information to the public. It applies to all food manufacturers producing or selling within the territories of EU member states and also includes food products supplied to or delivered by mass caterers. To be compliant, labels must be legible, use a minimum font size, and include both allergen and mandatory nutrition information.
These are just a few of many global food regulations that food and beverage companies must comply with. Those who take an enterprise labeling approach to labeling now will be better equipped to meet these rules and new ones enacted in the future.
How Enterprise Labeling Can Help
Here are a few ways enterprise labeling can help companies not only achieve regulatory compliance, but also improve labeling overall:
- Integrate labeling to create a single source of truth: Errors and delays commonly occur when organizations must maintain many different labeling solutions that have no connectivity to ensure key data is accurate. By addressing labeling on the enterprise-wide level and integrating it with other applications, organizations can ensure a single source of truth for label data. This ensures that label data is consistent and reliable, which improves traceability and helps prevent or mitigate costly recalls.
- Centralize labeling to simplify updates and prevent mistakes: Regulations mean label updates. Without a standardized enterprise labeling system, updates are often made in isolation, creating the burden and risk of potentially managing thousands of separate, distinctive templates for each change. Once labeling is integrated with other business processes, updates based on regulations can be made in one place, which will serve as a reliable source of truth and immediately impact labels across the enterprise. Additionally, by centralizing label management, organizations can gain access to easy-to-follow audit trails, with a searchable detailed record, showing where and by whom a label was created, changed, and printed. Some systems can even apply data-driven business logic and enable automated updates by business users without IT assistance. This can shorten lengthy label approval and design cycles that may require custom coding or involvement with many stakeholders.
- Implement tools for easy expansion or extension: Agile scalability can be crucial when keeping up with labeling regulations. One of the easiest ways to scale is to use a cloud-based solution. Using the cloud, organizations can quickly add new users and remote locations without worrying about additional licenses, services, or equipment. The cloud can also quickly connect new sites with an enterprise’s corporate look and product and client information and can enable remote printing capabilities. Cloud-based solutions can also readily extend compliant, controlled labeling to third parties for remote collaboration. This ensures that suppliers and co-packers can access the information needed in the format required to eliminate relabeling and help speed production.
Enabling Next-Generation Label Management
Enterprise labeling can enable companies to unify operations and master labeling with automation and advanced logic. Unlocking these new capabilities can help achieve compliance and so much more by making it effortless to update labels, barcodes, formats, languages, logos, content, and any critical product information or warnings to meet global and regional requirements.
With so many current and upcoming regulations to contend with, organizations that don’t modernize their labeling may be left scratching their heads, as continuous errors pile up alongside unused inventory, lost revenue, or—worse—a health crisis stemming from mislabeling.