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Regulating claims and advertisements on food products in India

In the light of FSSAI gazette standards on claims and advertisements, a proper dissemination approaches are required to be adapted by regulator to sensitize the industry and safeguard the consumer interests

FSSAI claims and advertisements standards
Introduction – Understanding the volume of correction required 

Today, an online shopping experience for an average consumer would be ecstatic and vicarious with the tall promises made on the products; this is even the same for traditional channels. Primarily, in the context of claims there are various products and content that is in principally non-compliant with the current FSSAI regulation on claims. Although, ASCI (Advertisement council of India) and partly FSSAI was issuing timely guidance to curb such menace, they cease to exist because of ignorance (of food business) and lack of deterrents (from FSSAI officials). Consequently, it is the consumer that is being trapped with misleading information; few familiar examples include misusing FSSAI number on drugs, eradicating diabetics, Slim belly etc. This is not only limited to food and has extended to various household products categories (like appeals, figurines and ornaments). Going by many studies and survey reports, product claims (and content) will increase the propensity of consumer buying a product i.e. influencing purchase decision. 

At the time the Indian FDA has set the standards for claims, the marketplaces are saturated with misleading content. In the light of industry making giant leaps on the name of innovation, will these standards trudge industry R&D progress?  But does the course correction happen within 1st July 2019? (Time given by FSSAI for industry to comply or it could be a trade-off in the enforcement) And would FSSAI strenuously penalize businesses flouting norms to safeguards the consumer rights? Only time would answer these large questions, otherwise notifying these standard would remain as one of the FSSAI “achievements” for the month December 2018

Sectors that are largely affected with these regulations 

As per the latest industry reports, health and wellness market is expected to grow to 1,50,000 crores by 2020 mainly because of raising awareness within in the customer circles. However, going by these regulations, categories like functional foods, food for special dietary usage, supplements and any other company that promote overall health & wellness would severely impact by these regulations as the health claims and prohibited claims are largely associated with these food products. It is apparent from these standards that industries like snacks & savories, oils & fats and fortification would like to benefit because of the unambiguous and concise mapping of level of fats, vitamins and nutrients with allowed phrases (low, free, high, reduced, less and source) in these regulations. Moreover, an explicit explanation of “no addition claims” (sugar, salt and additives) are generally predominant in these segments. 
(Check Schedule I and Schedule IV in the standards below in the link)

Is it difficult to align with these regulations? – Not as long as you follow a method to mitigate the risks of non compliance 

1. Review the current products – Before the effective date of these standards, a thorough review of product portfolio to ascertain the compliance status with respective to the listed claims especially of the ones mentioned in the general requirements and schedules of these regulations. As an outcome of this step, the management should get a hold of inventory of affected products and formulate a road map to either phase out or formalize these products in the six months time

2. Approaches to correction – After the completion of step 1, the business unit would have two options to align with the standards. Based on the leadership outlook any one of the following can be looked into

a. Corrective actions – Internally with consensus of relevant departments, tweak the objectionable content associated with the product.  This is may sometimes lead to revamping the entire product design and branding which results in change in consumer perception about the brand. Hence, the business should gauge the options of corrections appropriately 

b. Claim approval – In case of the change affecting the brand presence and more importantly scientific information substantiating the claims, the business can apply the claim approval process to get an official nod from FSSAI. Although, the approval process is similar to the new product approval procedures, lack of appeal or redressal on rejections would bring plight to the process (which was evident in the erstwhile product approval process). Moreover, the regulations are silent on the Ayurvedic documents; which are basis for most of the ingredients that are listed under FSSAI nutraceuticals regulations. Hence, companies (herbal extracts, nutraceuticals) which are under the purview of both AYUSH and Food would find it challenging to standardize their claims under these regulations. 

3. Implementation  - Post finalizing the approach for correction, the business to carefully implement the corrections across the product lifecycle including licensing, packing and promotion

To sum up, correction of claims at a product level is largely monitored in the central licensing offices already (ASCI has a Whatsapp number to report misleading information). In these instances, the designated officers adapt an approach to educate and enable the FBO to revisit the name of the product. However, it is workable as it is assumed that the product is launched only upon awarding of license. Moreover, the licensing team lacks a holistic view of product label and promotion material. Further, the food businesses that deliberately under declare turnover to avoid central (licensing) scrutiny would have lot of things to worry about with the implementation of these regulations. Lastly, considering the mass scale of correction required, FSSAI should sensitize the key stakeholders similar to its Swasth Barath Yatra. 

Click here for the final gazette notification of FSSAI 

(All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site)

Issue 29


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