Continuing to bring food nutrition information to the front of packaging remains a strategy of the Food Marketing Institute and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the groups said Monday.
Just days following the first updates to the nutrition facts panel in 20 years announced by the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, GMA and FMI said "Facts Up Front" messaging will be part of a national advertising campaign to educate consumers about food decisions.
Already in use since 2011 on several products, the Facts Up Front labels take information about saturated fat, sodium and sugar per serving from the nutrition facts panel and displays them on the front of the package instead of the back. Some manufacturers may also include information about potassium, fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium and iron.
Part of the new advertising campaign will include an online toolkit for retailers, available in both English and Spanish. Other tools include a nutrition calculator and an interactive label that explains Facts Up Front, GMA and FMI said.
The groups add that the campaign will attempt to build awareness of the label and enhance consumers' nutrition knowledge. Advertisements will run across a variety of print and digital media now through October 2014.
According to a study by Harris Poll on behalf of GMA, nine in 10 grocery shopping decision makers agree that Facts Up Front makes nutrition information easy to find and use (93%), and that it is simple to understand (92%). The group says also that front labels add convenience.
"Our research tells us that more than two-thirds of shoppers read food labels, looking for information related to sodium content, sugar, fat and calories. Food retailers listen to their customers and the Facts Up Front Program gives these shoppers the information they're looking for in a convenient, easily accessible format," said FMI President Leslie Sarasin in a press statement.
FMI says Facts Up Front was developed in response to First Lady Michelle Obama's call on the food and beverage industry to provide new tools for helping Americans construct a healthier diet, and it is voluntary.
Interest group the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the labels, however, are part of a larger marketing scheme.
Alleged marketing ploy?
CSPI Executive Director Michael Jacobson says the Facts Up Front label is marketing, not nutrition labeling.
"(Facts Up Front) is aimed more at preempting an FDA-designed system than at providing easy-to-understand 'nutrition in a nutshell' information for consumers," Jacobson noted in a press statement Monday.
"Its voluntary nature means you may not see it on junk foods. And even if you did, it wouldn't successfully highlight the food's unhealthfulness," Jacobson said. "Facts Up Front is a joke that should be roundly ignored by the FDA and the Administration."
Instead, CSPI suggested that the FDA design a front of package system that is mandatory – a request the group made in a petition in 2006. The FDA, however, has not instituted any up front labeling, but it is seeking a 'science-based solution' and monitoring the labeling movements closely, spokeswoman Theresa Eisenman told The Hill.
FDA previously issued a guidance statement on front of package labeling in 2008, recommending that food manufacturers keep up front labels consistent with FDA rules.
"FDA recommends that manufacturers and distributors of food products that include front-of-package symbols ensure that these claims are consistent with FDA's current laws and regulations," the guidance said. "We will notify manufacturers when we see any front-of-package symbols that are explicit or implied nutrient content claims that are not consistent with current requirements or where such front-of-package symbols are used in a manner that is false or misleading."
Meanwhile, as the new Facts Up Front advertisements begin to roll out, GMA CEO Pamela Bailey says the complementary education campaign will provide a service to consumers.
"With more than 50 companies voluntarily implementing Facts Up Front on their branded and private label products, it's important for shoppers to know this tool is out there and that they understand how to use it," she said in a statement. "With Facts Up Front, we're simplifying nutrition so everyone has the essential information needed to help build more healthful diets."