Due to some emails I've been receiving, it's clear calorie disclosure is on the minds of many in the industry. When is the deadline? December 1, 2016. Does front of pack labeling meet the requirement, putting the responsibility of calorie disclosure on the manufacturers? Yes, but No.
Facts up Front
A push by First Lady Michelle Obama is credited with the development of a front of pack labeling program called Facts Up Front, which is used in retail stores to help inform consumers quickly about basic nutrition information in food. It was a voluntary program and progressive manufacturers joined, reworking their packaging to include front of label calorie declarations.
This proactive move is certainly helping vending operators meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's final calorie declaration requirement now. However, the FDA wrote some text size minimums into their final rule for front of pack labeling, which are not part of the Facts Up Front standard. Manufacturers challenged this rule, saying they couldn't make the sizes work, and therefore the FDA granted an extension for text size - not for the calorie disclosure itself. This extension also applies to gum and mints sold in vending, which have such small surface area that applying front of pack labeling with calories being visible along with branding just isn't feasible. During the NAMA Fly-In this year, FDA representatives clarified the deadline and exclusions.
So yes, under certain conditions, such as when a product with calories displayed on the front, is visible, not blocked by a spiral coil or crinkle in the packaging, then front of pack labeling meets the FDA requirement and the vending operator need not take any further action.
Unfortunately, there are many areas where these conditions aren't met and front of pack labeling isn't a viable solution for operators. Closed front vending machines and coffee vending machines both fall under the calorie disclosure requirement, if the company owns 20 or more. Operators need to use other means in these instances.
Options for compliance
While progressive operators have already implemented and/or planned a combination of solutions for compliance, there is no single optimal solution. Some operators are going to add stickers to the front of individual products. These stickers will display the necessary calorie count information. Others plan to post the calories on the vending machine spiral and ensure the products all have identical (or close) calorie counts. Still others plan to post a sign next to the machine, which is what the FDA originally thought operators were going to do before hearing comments from the industry. Finally, there are electronic solutions for the technology savvy. Many of the newer video screens, both large and small, have the option to add the calorie information of products available to the consumer prior to purchase.
Regardless of the form the calorie disclosure takes, it is required to be in place December 1. That's a mere 27 days from now. The FDA did say back in July that operators found in violation would get a letter about the regulations and requirements, but no fines or jail time would be assessed. That may help operators find a bit of relief in transitioning to their new systems, but it doesn't mean they don't have to start, especially as the bulk of manufacturers are only beginning to shift to new packaging that displays those calorie counts front and center. However, because requests for front of label nutritional
information is something coming from retail, with the additional heralds from vending, manufacturers will likely adjust packaging in greater numbers. This is good news for the industry, but certainly isn't the entire solution.