Labelling compliance is often the last thing to be considered when beginning to export, but it is a vital part of the process. Wherever you plan to expand into, different challenges will arise due to the diverse nature of legislation.
Europe provides a vast opportunity with almost 500 million people and 27 markets to target (Eurostat, July 2020). However, there is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach when it comes to compliance. Here are six common challenges to consider when exporting to the EU. These may apply to other target markets on your expansion list and should be taken into account in your new product development and export plans.
Remember, if you are intending to export to the European Union (EU), you must consider that the United Kingdom (UK) is now a ‘third country’. Great Britain (GB) faces legislation from a new perspective. However, Northern Ireland (NI) has a unique status and will continue to follow EU food legislation.
- Responsible food business in the EU
The name and address of the responsible food business operator within the EU must be provided on the product label. This is not dissimilar to how the UK currently trades with other third countries such as Australia. The address allows any relevant authority or customer to contact the operator in case of queries, control or recall — the person named is responsible for the product.
The food business operator responsible for the food information shall be the operator under whose name or business name the food is marketed or, if that operator is not established in the Union, the importer into the Union market. The address provided on the label must be physically present in the EU, either manufacturing there or as the active importer/distributor — virtual addresses and P.O boxes are not appropriate. An NI address would be acceptable for products sold in the EU; a GB address can be provided additionally.
Applicable legislation – National versus harmonised
Over the years, there has been a lot of work to harmonise European legislation. However, differences remain and we see more divergence introduced at a national level; therefore, national legislation must still be considered. This is particularly important for compositional standards and labelling purposes. An ingredient may be restricted in a Member State even if approved for use at an EU level, for instance Titanium Dioxide in France. Some countries may even require additional information on the label for some products.
Each EU Member State is responsible for the enforcement of legislation in their territory. Even where harmonised, application of legislation by enforcement authorities can vary between EU Member States. While some countries may have a relaxed approach, many have strict enforcement policies and sanctions differ greatly. For instance, EU legislation indicates Member States may impose that products are labelled in at least one official language of their territory. Although labelling in Belgium uses the Dutch, French and/or German language depending on the area of sale, it is possible that the authorities here would consider the compliance of the English text on the basis that much of the population can understand this.
From the cost of recall or reprinting the label to expensive fines, there are a wide range of infractions that can result in repercussions for your brand. It is important to consider the common practice in each country to effectively mitigate the risk of opposing action and to appeal to the local populace and their customary expectation.
Meaningful and compliant translations
Direct translations are tempting but, in most cases, they do not work. One example is the famous ‘toad in the hole’. On the UK market, this would be understood as referring to a traditional dish. On the EU market, this would not be understood in the same way — a description such as ‘sausage in batter’ would instead need to be translated to avoid cultural confusion.
Also, many terms are defined in EU legislation in each of the 24 official languages of the EU and those terms must be used in relation to the relevant products. It is essential to use the correct required language for each country. It should also be noted that countries sharing the same language may have different approaches and wordings. As an example, products in Austria and in Germany are both labelled in German. However, the common term used for ‘soft drinks with fruit juice’ is different between the two countries.
Multilingual labels and over-stickers
Multilingual labels are a great way to reach a wider audience. The main requirement is to ensure that all the mandatory information is provided in the appropriate language and in the right place.
For instance, the name of the product and the net quantity must be in the same field of vision for each language. Depending on how the information is displayed, the net quantity may need to be repeated.
For over-stickering, having the right information in the right place is also critical; care should be taken in deciding which information will appear on the main label and what will appear on the over-sticker. The over-sticker must not cover any mandatory information for the target market and elements such as font size must still be addressed.
Having pictorials on a product tends to be the norm and they are a great way to appeal to consumers. Guidance on their use varies according to local application and interpretation, especially for flavoured products. For some countries, a picture of an ingredient can be used when the taste is provided only by flavouring. However, for other countries, depending on the specific flavouring, a drawing can only be used in specific circumstances or alongside an additional statement. Providing imagery that suggests a product contains an ingredient it does not in fact contain, is illegal. Maps and flags may also be problematic; the use of these elements can lead to additional information requirements on the label if the primary ingredient has a different origin.
Please see some examples for a product only containing natural apple flavouring:
Although it may sound daunting, don’t be discouraged! Everyday businesses are successfully expanding into new markets. With the correct process and expertise in place, your business can expand too. There are many solutions to remove the complexity and plenty of support available to help you on your journey. The important thing is to get it right first time.
International Regulatory Advisor, Ashbury – The Product Information People