With brands regularly expected to make changes to include more information on their labels – such as the inclusion of allergen information and origin information for fresh meat, plus requirements to improve legibility – the space available on labels for design and brand elements is significantly impacted.

Such changes to label regulations pose issues for brands, their supply chain partners and label converters. Tag and Label Manufacturers Institute (TLMI) president Mark Tibbetts says, “As with the other printed packaging sectors, regulations and compliance pressures are having the most impact in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical categories.

“Some of the regulatory issues that we predict will impact label design include GMO labelling compliance, ePedigree and track-and-trace regulations, and heightening nutritional labelling standards for certain food and beverage packaging categories. These expectations mean that a label has to carry increased amounts of information, as it is often the sole informational medium on a container.”

This puts pressure on manufacturers, and there may come a point when compliance and competitive advantages clash so that the production of a product under these circumstances does not make business sense. Until that point is reached, consumer safety is paramount, and the innovation that has been brought through compliance measures has been of great benefit to brands.

Existing legislation: little impact

The severity of the changes brought about in the labelling industry by existing and future legislation is debatable, according to BPIF Labels chairman John Bambery: “Besides label converters in the food production sector that have had to consider legislation such as low-migration inks – which have now been taken on board by suppliers to the label-printing sector – regulations have had little impact on businesses in the rest of the industry. Many feel that we have enough legislation to deliver high levels of consumer protection, but this doesn’t seem to stop the steady creep of new regulations.”

Bambery says that BPIF Labels, as a trade body, gives information to its members so that they can make suitable decisions when looking for service providers and suppliers. Supermarkets, for example, demand sustainability and expect their labelling partners to adhere to current legislation – such as being BRC accredited, and having the ISO 14001 and PS 9000 quality assurance standards.

The European Commission recently published the revised set of circular economy regulations, which, if adopted by the UK in the current form, will completely transform the country’s packaging waste directive, Bambery says.

“This will add significant cost to companies,” he warns. “BPIF labels will be lobbying strongly on behalf of the label industry.”

Striking the balance: the future of regulations

The food sector will always have some of the most complex labelling regulations, which means that companies need to think creatively and practically about staying relevant and within the law. The legislation has to balance manufacturer compliance with best practices, ensuring that food is of the highest quality while making the consumers’ lives easier by giving them the information to make the right decisions based on their needs.

One example of this is the SmartLabel initiative, supported by the Grocery Manufacturers Association. With the scanning of a barcode, SmartLabel takes consumers to a website offering detailed information about the scanned product.

Grocery Manufacturers Association president and CEO Pamela G Bailey says, “People want information about the products they buy, use and consume. SmartLabel puts it at their fingertips. SmartLabel will change how people shop.”

For businesses within the labelling industry, legislation and regulation are facts of life. The pressure – from brand partners and consumers alike – to include more information on labels might hamper creativity at first, but it also drives innovation. Legislation needs to be well thought through, and developed with the cooperation of the label converters that ultimately have to deliver the label to their customers. However, it is often enacted in isolation, with low levels of consultation across the supply chain.

More regulation and legislation will always be on its way to the labelling industry, and each label converters must continue to rise to their challenges.