Indian confectionery market expresses concerns over ‘traffic light’ labelling

Raghavendra Verma reports from New Delhi on a new government system in India of food labelling that have prompted major concerns from industry

Indian confectionery makers are fearing a slump in sales due to the country’s recently introduced ‘traffic light’ food labelling regulation that insist on detailed nutrition information on the front of packs, along with red dots to denote high sugar, salt or fat content.

“It is going to affect the industry very badly,” ,” Brahma K Gurbani, President of the Indian Confectionery Manufacturers Association, in Mumbai, told Confectionery Production. “Compliance with this new regulation “is not possible,” he said.

According to Gurbani, the new regulations will create huge problems for manufacturers, as there are multiple ingredients in confectionery, with varying calories and nutrition values.

“We do not have that much space to print all the things” on the label, he said. The draft Food Safety and Standards (labelling and display) regulations, 2018 issued earlier this year by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), noted that high fat, sugar and salt (HFSS) food items shall carry a red dot on packaging “in case the value of energy from total sugar is more than 10 per cent of the total energy provided by the 100g/100ml of the product”.

The red dots will also apply if the value of energy from trans-fat is more than 1 per cent of the total energy provided by the 100g/100ml of the product, and the total fat or sodium content is more than a range of specified values.

However, according to Kanchan Zutshi, secretary of the Federation of Biscuit Manufacturers of India, in New Delhi, food products are customarily consumed in portion sizes, not in 100g or 100ml portions. The Indian “biscuit section is very price sensitive and there are concerns in the industry,” she told Confectionery Production.

Furthermore, if the half of the front label is covered with a big table giving salt, sugar, fat and other contents, then the remaining information required by the consumer to select a product gets compressed, Subodh Jindal, president of All India Food Processors’ Association, in New Delhi, told Confectionery Production. “Also, the entire range of [product] brands on the [store] shelf will look alike,” he said.

The confectionery and sweet bakery industry is panicking, as the new requirement for red dots might affect the whole product range: “80 per cent to 90 per cent of the entire processed food will be covered with red dots,” Harsh Arora, a private consultant to confectionary manufacturers, based in New Delhi, said.
“Chocolates, spreads and all such products will have red dots either because of the fat or sugar content or the both,” he predicted.

A spokesperson for the FSSAI, however, argued to Confectionery Production that the effect of red dots requirement would not be that widespread, but refused to give any estimate of how many products might fall into that warning light bracket.

Existing FSSAI labelling regulations dated back to 2011, she said, stressing it had been time to review their content, while focusing on high fat, sugar and salt content and trans-fat issues. “Consumers should be more aware and should know their choices better,” she said.

The regulator has already completed a review process for the new regulation and is expected to implement it by June, said the spokesperson. “We will proceed gradually and give the manufactures some time to clear off their existing inventory.”

The FSSAI spokesperson however admitted that a goal of the new regulation is to reduce consumption of products with high sugar and fat content.
Furthermore, the confectionery and sweet bakery industry is concerned about their impact for that reason – predicting negative impact on sales: “Indians are already avoiding the soft drinks, ice creams and chocolates and when on the front panel we are putting this product has so many calories then surely, directly or indirectly, the sales will be affected,” said Gurbani.

Moreover, while creating a challenge for manufactures, the new regulations would not educate customers in a significant way, as they rarely read all the information on the labels, Gurbani argued.

“Before bringing in the colour coding, the government needs to educate the consumers about what all these figures mean,” added Mr Arora, “The problem is, when the consumer sees red dot, he or she will consider it to be bad.”

Furthermore, Abinash Verma, director general of the Indian Sugar Mills Association, also in New Delhi, argued to Confectionery Production, that authorities do not have any strong research basis for introducing these regulations. “If the FSSAI has any particular evidence, empirical or scientific, it should put that in public domain for discussion before bringing in such kind of a regulation,” he said.

However, Verma admitted the FSSAI has relied on advice from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in framing its policy.

“The WHO has suggested that the energy requirement from sugar should not more than 10 percent of the total energy consumption of a person,” he said. But he claimed this should not be the basis for a clamp down: “This is not applicable to a country like India, where the sugar consumption is still on the lower side.”

According to Verma, the per capita consumption of sugar in India is only 20kg per year while that in United States it is around 68 kilos per year. “Per capital sugar consumption is not growing, and sugar cannot be creating any health problems” in India, he said.

Making the changes to all labels across the confectionery and sweet bakery industry will also be a challenge.  According to food expert Jindal, it would cost manufacturers millions of Indian rupees to change their labels and designs. “While the large companies can do that within few months the smaller ones will take much longer,” he said.

Furthermore, the industry in also not happy with the way FSSAI is implementing the new regulation. Instead of “handholding”, the regulator is being demanding and instead “trying to negotiate with the industry” over the details, added Jindal.
However, industry consultant Arora hoped that industry concerns would be heeded, and the regulation’s implementation be eased: “Industry is always hopeful that the government would accept our submissions.”

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