Carpe FDA: The Nutrition Facts Label Update Is an Opportunity to Gain a Competitive Brand Advantage

Carol Best

The Nutrition Facts label is widely regarded as the most reproduced graphic design of the past century, appearing on more than 6.5 billion packages. Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given the label its first major redesign in more than 20 years, and CPC brands sold in the U.S. must comply with the new requirements by July 26, 2018.

The new requirement was formally announced by the FDA earlier this year on May 20. In the years of deliberation leading up to the final ruling, many CPC brands actively opposed requirements such as more realistic serving sizes, disclosure of added sugars and other changes that could influence consumer choices. Brand owners and managers have argued they shouldn’t be required to devote time, budgets and resources to providing information that may turn some consumers away.

Schawk Best label comparison
Photos courtesy of FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration

We’ve seen this opposition before. Brands also campaigned against the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, contending that government had no business influencing consumer choices. But in the years since the original regulation took full effect in 1994, hundreds of millions of shoppers have come to rely on the Nutrition Facts label and leading CPC brands have come around to embrace the value it adds.

However, there’s one important difference between then and now. While redesigning their labels in the early 1990s, few brands regarded the mandate as an opportunity to compete more effectively on the shelf. Then, as now, the new label requirements were giving consumers exactly what they want: Clear, useful information to guide nutritional choices. But today, consumers are speaking much louder.

The Nutrition Label update is an opportunity to listen to consumers and give them even more of what they want—going beyond simple compliance to deliver a real brand advantage.

An Instructive Tale

Around the same time brands were scrambling to comply with the first Nutrition Facts label mandate, automotive manufacturers were scrambling to comply with strict new fleet emissions requirements in California.

GM responded by creating the EV1 and offering it through leasing only—meeting the letter of the law without giving much thought to what consumers actually wanted. In fact, as 2006’s Who Killed The Electric Car? lays out, some claim GM’s true goal was to prove a lack of consumer demand for such vehicles. Toyota responded with the RAV4-EV—but more importantly, with a commitment to develop technology and vehicles that would satisfy unmet consumer needs.

When the regulation was substantially scaled back due to pressure from oil, automotive and other interests, GM canceled EV1 production in 2002, repossessed all the cars it had previously leased, and crushed them. Toyota also ended production of the RAV4-EV in 2003, but continued to develop its battery and electric drivetrain technology until it had the vehicle consumers really wanted: the phenomenally successful Prius.

Two companies faced the same regulation, but with very different attitudes. Toyota won by looking beyond the regulation to the underlying consumer demands that gave rise to it.