LabelSmallWhen you’re rushing through the supermarket, trying to figure out what to make for dinner that’s quick, easy, but still relatively healthy, do you wish that there was something that would help point out the healthiest option? If so, you may have used one of the front-of-pack symbols that food manufacturers and retailers have developed to help their customers select foods that are healthier choices. Many companies have their own front-of-pack labeling system, with their own icons and criteria for labeling claims. Since there are so many approaches to front-of-pack labeling, the government and other organizations have taken an interest, with the intention of having a single, clear approach for consumers to use throughout the grocery store. IOM Report Two weeks ago, a committee of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its recommendations for what a front-of-pack labeling system should include. The IOM report recommended that food packages should declare the calories, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium content of the food or beverage. The committee started its second phase of work with a public meeting this week to look at consumer behavior related to front-of-pack labeling. In 2007 the Food and Drug Administration held a public meeting to investigate front-of-pack labeling symbols in use by food retailers, food manufacturers and other governments. Since then, FDA has taken action against some labeling statements and icons that are not in line with current nutrient content claim regulations. FDA has indicated that it hopes to have a front-of-pack labeling approach identified by the end of this year. The First Lady’s “Let’s Move!” campaign is interesting in front-of-pack labeling, too, and is placing emphasis on this approach. When considering the various existing and proposed labeling systems, I can see there are some approaches that would be better for dairy products than others. Since some dairy products have saturated fat, added sugar and sodium, but also are good sources of protein, calcium, potassium, and other beneficial nutrients, it is important to have the full nutritive value of dairy foods expressed in any front-of-pack symbol. How Does This Affect Dairy? It would depend on the details of the front-of-pack system adopted by FDA. If the voluntary system concentrates solely on “nutrients to avoid,” as recommended by the IOM report, dairy products that contain milkfat, sodium and/or added sugars could look less desirable than other products that may have less sodium or fat, but are also devoid of positive nutrients. IDFA & Industry Activities Many dairy companies have developed their own icon systems, and many products are being sold with shelf-tag symbols in various grocery stores. Other companies are considering their options on labeling with front-of-pack symbols. The Grocery Manufacturers Association and the Food Marketing Institute this week announced a voluntary front-of-pack labeling initiative that has the support of many major food and beverage manufacturers and retailers. While specific details are still being worked out, this symbol system will incorporate a variety of nutrients to make it easier for shoppers to make informed purchase decisions. Providing a complete picture of the product, including nutrients to encourage and others to limit, in an easy-to-understand, consistent labeling format is no easy task, but this initiative seems to be on the right track. According to GMA, consumers will begin to see the new label in the marketplace early next year. IDFA already submitted comments to FDA regarding front-of-pack symbols on dairy products, and we plan to provide comments to the IOM committee this fall. If you would like to be involved with IDFA’s efforts, please contact me at or by leaving a comment below. How does your company use front-of-pack labeling or nutrient content claims to communicate nutrition information to your customers?